This tropical, hibiscus looking flower is actually native to Missouri and parts of the Midwest and southern U.S.. In fact it is a hibiscus, specifically (Hibiscus lasiocarpos), and it belongs in the plant family Malvacea with over 4000 species, including plants such as cotton, okra, cacao, durian, baobabs and hollyhocks. The marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is in fact a plant native to Europe and north Africa, and its sap was used to create the sweet treat …marshmallows. Today, marshmallow candies are no longer made with the sap from the plant, and instead gelatin is used in its place.
Flowers of an okra plant (Abelmoschus esculentu), a plant in the same family as Rose Mallow and Hibiscus.
Back to the Rose Mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpos), this plant is a tall (3 to 7 feet) woody stemmed, perennial plant (meaning it will come back year after year). The five-petaled flowers can be quite large (6 inches). Blooms are either white or pink with a dark mauve/ wine colored center. They bloom later in the season between July through October. The leaves are heart or arrow shaped and are covered by soft velvety hairs. They prefer full sun and moist soil.
Rose Mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpos) blooms can be either pink or white.
They are an important source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects. Check out this video to see how much pollen bees can get from these flowers (Severn Rose Mallow - YouTube). You might even find a bee specialist, the Rose-mallow bee, (Ptilothrix bombiformis). Females of this species use the pollen from this flower to feed its young. Males of the species can often be found hanging out in the open blossoms waiting for a female to come by. Females will then build a nest to lay her eggs on a ball of pollen that she makes from the Rose Mallow pollen she collects. The young will feed off of this pollen until they are ready to emerge from the nest and continue the cycle.
I found a male last year hiding in my Rose Mallow. As I got closer to it, it did push-ups at me, I assume it was a “get away from my flower” dance, perhaps a way to intimidate other would be male, rose mallow bees from interfering with his digs.
Here is a male Rose-mallow bee (Ptilothrix bombiformis). Notice his splayed out legs and crouched position. He is telling me to buzz off!
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