All gardeners have those tough spots where nothing seems to want to grow. Dry shade? Morning shade followed by hot west sun? Neglected, hard to water spots? It’s enough to bring on a tension headache.
The bright apple green leaves and red furled blooms of Turk’s cap Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii are often just the right solution. I love easy to grow plants, but this Texas native is almost beyond belief. Shade, sun, or a little of both? Moist or just on rainfall alone? Clay, loam, sand, or limestone soils (with good drainage)? Insect damage? Very minimal. All North Texas gardeners have to do is cut the stems back to the ground after a hard freeze in the fall.
The blooms on Turk’s cap are so unusual. The vermillion red flowers are twisted into a loose tube of overlapping petals, with a red stamen protruding from the center. The flowers are said to resemble a Turkish turban, thus the name, Turk’s cap. Butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to the blooms. The marble-sized fruit is edible and is enjoyed by a number of birds and animals.
At the Demonstration Garden, we have enjoyed a Turk’s cap with pink blooms for many years. I hope it is the Greg Grant introduction, named after the first woman horticulture student at Texas A&M, Pam Puryear. Her namesake has been designated a Texas Superstar by the AgriLife Extension Service.
The variety name for Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, honors another groundbreaking botanist in Texas. Thomas Drummond was a Scottish naturalist, born in Scotland about 1790. In 1830, he came to America to collect plant specimens from the western and southern United States. He arrived in Velasco, Texas, in March 1833, and collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds in the almost two years he worked in central Texas.
Although Turk’s cap will adapt to full sun (and I do have several blooming like crazy in west sun), I really think it should be ideally planted in morning sun, afternoon shade. I have found that if Turk’s cap is in deep shade, the blooms are limited. Although Turk’s cap is drought tolerant, the plant will wilt noticeably in full sun. It loves heat, and is a dependable August bloomer. The bloom season runs from May to November.
For a low maintenance light to medium-shade garden, mix Turk’s cap with southern wood fern and caladiums.
Pictures by Starla and Ann
For more perennial information see our post on Gardening With Perennials.