Monday, December 1, 2008

for the love of turk's cap

I don't know that there is a plant more versatile for this part of the world than the Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus). They thrive in sun or shade, damp or dry, and produce these delightful twisted flowers at the tips of their stems. They are in my south facing bed here in the country and were in my shadiest bed in my city garden. They loved both spots, flowering a bit more in the sun with smaller leaves, creating more lush foliage in the shade. This plant is a delight!

Here's a little blurb on the Turk's Cap by Virginia Young of the Texas Cooperative Extension:

Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii) is a native shrub of both Texas and Mexico. Also known as Drummond wax-mallow, it attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and moths. It has a woody or semi-woody base and many stems, with leaves that are large, notched and slightly fuzzy. It goes especially well in a more casual garden. It is usually 2 to 4 feet tall but may reach 8 to 9 feet in the sun; it will get about as wide as it is tall.

Turk's Cap flowers are generally red but they also come in white and pink. They bloom from May to November with flowers appearing every day in the warm weather. The flowers are tightly furled and the stamens and pistils protrude, enticing hummingbirds to feed. Other birds are attracted to the plant's small red fruits that resemble cherries or tiny apples. When the fruit is ripe it splits into five carpels, each containing one seed. Fresh, untreated seeds can be planted. You have to be alert to capture the fruits before they are devoured by birds or other wildlife. Turk's Cap may also be propagated by soft-wood cuttings or root divisions and it will colonize by self-layering.

Turk's Cap prefers well-drained fertile soil but will adapt to a wide range of soils, locations and moisture levels. It thrives in both alkaline and acid settings, in semi-shade or full sun, and can be quite drought tolerant. In full sun it gets taller and leggier and makes a nice background plant in a border. If kept cut back, Turk's Cap can be used as a tall groundcover.

Turk's Cap is a perennial shrub that is evergreen and ever-blooming in the Valley and Mexico. In East Texas it dies back after the first hard frost. It should then be cut back to the ground and mulched heavily.

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