Alcea ficifolia is a lesser known hollyhock species native to Siberia. It was introduced at the end of the 16th century and is commonly known as the 'Antwerp' or 'Fig-leaved Hollyhock' due to its attractive, unusual palmate foliage.
It is a substantially more robust plant than the common hollyhock and unlike the biennial forms which produce a single spire, Alcea ficifolia produce many upright stems emerging from the base, resulting in a bushy form. It is considered a perennial and will act like one if cut back after blooming and is shown to have the best levels of resistance to rust.
Alcea ficifolia ‘Happy Lights’ is a beautiful strain, a bold blend of white, pink, purple, red, and yellow blooms. The plants grow to around 150 to 210cm (5 to 7ft) tall, and produce large, single saucer shaped flowers that are 8 to 12cm (3 to 5in) wide from May to October.
Most impressive in the garden as tall border plants or for background planting. They bloom from mid summer to frost and the long stems make for excellent cut flowers. Very easy to grow from seed, this reliable perennial is extremely hardy and will flourish in full sun and rich soil.
Sowing: Sow in late winter to spring or in autumn
If sown early, November to March the plants will bloom in their first year.
Like all Hollyhocks, the Fig-leaved Hollyhock is easy to grow from seed, but unlike the tall varieties which are biennials, it is a perennial that will flower in its first year if sown early in the year. The plant quickly forms a dense, well-branched plant.
The seeds can be sown directly into a prepared bed or can be started in pots in a cold frame or indoors.
Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil, cover with about 2mm (¼in) layer of soil. Keep moist and do not let the seeds dry out once planted. They will usually germinate in 2 to 3 weeks at 20°C (68°F). If planted indoors, prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out after all risk of frost.
Plant out in rich, moist but well drained soil about two weeks before the last frosts. The flowers grow throughout June to July at an incredibly fast rate The plants need plenty of room, space them 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) apart. Hollyhocks love rich soil, dress the soil around them with compost, rotted or mushroom manure or seaweed.
Deadhead to prolong the flowering season through to August. Alcea ficifolia perennialise very well, especially if the flower stalk is cut off after the majority of the blossoms have gone to seed.
To encourage self-sown seedlings for the subsequent season, allow some blossoms on the stalks to form seed pods. Others can be pulled up and composted.
The foliage lasts well into autumn. Once the leaves have died back for winter, give your plants bonemeal for the roots of the plants. In cold area the plants will benefit from a mulch to protect from winter frosts.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Containers, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds, Wildflower Gardens or Wildlife Gardens.
When harvesting your own hollyhock seeds, allow the pods will tell you when the seeds are ready. Make sure that the seed pods are fully mature on the stalk before removing them. You will notice that the small stem which holds the seed pod starts to turn brown. Try not to pick seed pods until the papery shell turns a yellow or golden brown.
The seeds are all lined up together in a ring inside the seed pod. Gently peel open part of the flap that covers the seed ring. If the seeds are not dry and blackish, don't pick that pod. Once the seeds appear blackish and dry they are ready to be harvested. Use sharp garden scissors to cut the pods from the stalk then dry and store the seeds in paper bags until you are ready to plant them.
After the seed pods have dried and you find yourself with six foot tall empty stalks, simply cut the stalks to the ground. Don't panic, this is not an art form. Just cut off the dead stuff. This is not a growing requirement it just makes the garden look neat and tidy.
Hollyhocks recognised today are believed to be of Asian origin, they are depicted in Chinese art as early as the 9th century, symbolising passing time. Their route to the the rest of the world seems to have followed the Silk Road.
Said to have first reached Europe in the 16th century, hollyhocks may have started out as plants for the wealthy, shown in Chinese art and, much later in the walled gardens of the rich. But it wasn’t long before the innate hardiness of hollyhocks, and the large supplies of seed they provide, brought them into the working classes and into cottage gardens.
Swedish Botanist Carl Linnaeus whose arrangement for classifying, naming, and ranking, living things during the mid to late 1700s is still in wide use today, albeit with a good many changes; identified this plant, and suggested both the Latin Alcea and Greek Althea to designate these pretty cultivars.
The genus name Althea is the Greek word for healing. Hollyhock have long been used medicinally.
The species name ficifolia means 'with leaves like a fig' due to its attractive, unusual palmate foliage.
Commonly called hollyhocks, holly is said to be an altered form of the word holy. The plant is said to have been brought back with the Crusades having been transplanted in many parts of the world during the Middle Ages. In Medieval times the hollyhock was known as 'St. Joseph's Staff.'
It is referred to in a British horticultural treatise of 1548 as holy-hoke, an adaptation of the Welsh name. It may also have been called hock leaf because it was used to reduce the swelling in horses' hocks. The Anglo-Saxon word for Mallow was 'hoc'.
The seeds have been called 'cheeses' because the pod is shaped like a wheel of cheese.
The Hollyhock is a very old plant. The grave of a 50,000 year old Neanderthal man was found to contain the remains of Hollyhocks. Although Hollyhocks may have no medicinal uses in modern times, the plants were used in antiquity to solve a myriad of health issues. Medicinally, the plant was used primarily as an emollient (something that softens, something used to make a salve), as a minor pain reliever, and as a diuretic.
If you have a sheep with sore feet, follow the instruction of Gervase Markham (1614) and
"annoint her feet with the juyce of the Hearb Holyhocke."
The flowers are edible. Hollyhock buds were used in a recipe of 1660, with Marigolds, Wild Thyme and young Hazel buds to enable one to see fairies. In the past Hollyhocks were pressed into service for making and dyeing cloth and children used to make Hollyhock dolls from the flowers.
And before we leave the subject, one more lovely bit, from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses:
All the names I know from nurse:
Gardener's garters, shpher'd purse;
Bachelor's buttons, lady's smock,
And the lady hollyhock.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 500mg Average Seed Count 50 Seeds Family Malvaceae Genus Alcea (Althaea) Species ficifolia hybrid Cultivar Happy Lights Synonym Althea ficifolia Common Name The Antwerp or Fig-leaved Hollyhock Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers White, pink, purple, red, and yellow.
Single saucer shaped flowers, 8 to 12cm (3 to 5in) wide
Natural Flower Time May to October Foliage Attractive, unusual palmate foliage Height 150 to 210cm (5 to 7ft) - Fast growing Position Full Sun Soil Fertile, well-drained soil Time to Sow Sow in winter through to spring (November to March)