Malva sylvestris 'Zebrina' is an easily raised perennial which thrives in sun or part shade, producing strong, erect stems crammed with white to pink flowers with purple, almost black 'flamed' markings. The purple veins out as if stroked on with a paint brush.
They don't all have the exact same colouration, some are darker and richer in colour, on others the lighter bands have more of a silvery appearance, but they all have the striking stripes.
Malva sylvestris is a short-lived perennial that is often grown as a biennial or an annual. It will flower the first season from seed, is very easy to grow and will bloom profusely in a sunny position.
Although it is regarded as a plant suitable for part shade, it will grow less spindly in full sun. A very easily grown plant, carefree and requiring no maintenance. It will succeed in ordinary garden soil, though it prefers a reasonably well-drained and moderately fertile soil.
Malva sylvestris is a relative of the Hollyhock (Alcea) and is often called French Hollyhock. It is one of the truly grand old-fashioned flowers of that almost mythical English Cottage Garden, which so many people strive to recreate.
The foliage is finely lobed and possesses the elegance of some ferns. Excellent in containers or the sunny border, the flowers smother the foliage all summer long. They are very attractive to bees and butterflies and are terrific as cut flowers.
Sowing: Sow from February to June or from September to October for over-wintering.
A short-lived perennial that is often grown as a biennial or an annual, the seed of Malva is best sown in a cold frame in early spring or in autumn but can also be sown directly where they are to flower.
Malva seed germinates quickly and easily, typically within 14 to 21 days.
Fill pots or trays with seed compost. Stand them in water to soak and then drain. Sow the seeds on the surface and cover with a fine layer of sieved compost. Keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged.
Prick out the seedlings into 7cm (3in) pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow on the seedlings in a lightly shaded area until they are established. Over winter in a well ventilated unheated glasshouse or coldframe. Plant them out in their permanent positions in the early summer.
Alternatively, sow the seeds in late spring into a well raked bed ensuring that the soil is fine and crumbly. Scatter the seed, rake lightly and firm down well. Keep the seeds moist until germination has occurred and keep the seedlings weeded in early stages. When large enough to handle, thin out seedlings to 45cm (18in) apart.
The plants have a typical clearance of 30cm (12in) from the ground, so you may wish to under plant them with lower-growing perennials. In excessively rich soils the flower stalks can be weaker and may require staking in exposed sites.
They are not particular as to soil type or pH but prefer moist but well-drained soil. They are highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments but cannot tolerate maritime exposure.
A very hardy plant, it will tolerate temperatures down to minus 25°C (-13°F) when it is dormant in the winter. The plants are not generally bothered by pests, except for minor slug or snail damage.
In late summer, cut the stalks back when the flowers are spent, at around three feet height, the plant will began to rebloom almost immediately.
If you wish to keep the plants as perennials, cut them back in late autumn in preparation for winter. In exposed locations or colder microclimates consider applying a thick mulch around the roots to protect it through winter.
Malva will set seed if it is happy in its given spot, so you will have more plants that will happily take the place of the parent.
Cottage Garden, Flowers Borders and Beds, Woodland Garden; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade, Hedgerow, Wildflower Meadow.
All species in the genus Malva have edible leaves, and these tend to have a mild flavour and a good texture. They are common additions to 'wild' salads, the young leaves can eaten raw in salads. Leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to soups for their thickening effects and pleasant taste.
Raw mallow seeds can be eaten as a healthy snack, offering a nutty flavour.
The tannins found in the plant make it useful for dyeing fabric, and the fibres found in the stems can be used for making textiles and paper.
Mallow flowers are a sweet and decorative garnish for deserts. Press them lightly into jellies, mousses or puddings or arrange on a frosted cake.
All mallow flowers press well and are highly prized in floral crafts. In the past, the flowers were spread on doorways and woven into garlands or chaplets for celebrating May Day.
The leaves and flowers can also be distilled to make liquor.
Malva sylvestris has been used medicinally since ancient times and is still used in some parts. Its efficacy, however, is debatable and no herbal product containing Mallow has ever been proven to be honestly useful for anything.
Amusingly, it turns out Pythagoras had one of the clearest understandings of mallow's value. Modern studies have concluded that the chemical embalin in mallows has an anti-androgenic effect lowering male fertility, reducing testicle size and sperm count.
One of the few genuine effects, it is not high on the advertised list of desirable attributes, so don't expect to be trumpeted down at the local health shop.
Nowadays, botanists do not classify Malva sylvestris into distinct subspecies, but prefer to speak of cultivar groups instead. The subspecies formerly known as Malva sylvestris subsp. malaca is now referred to as the Malva sylvestris L. Mauritiana cultivar group, and it is the predominant type found in the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, and Algeria. The plant commonly grows in the wild, such as in open areas, roadsides, and wastelands.
Malva sylvestris is grown as an annual in North Africa, biennial in the Mediterranean and a perennial elsewhere.
Christopher Lloyd wrote: “Malva sylvestris is a frequent weed in gardens, which hired labour or unpaid friends, wishing to help with the weeding, will always leave untouched, because, with its mound of dark green, rounded leaves, it looks important.”
The genus name Malva derives from Malthace, the Latinised form of the Greek name Malthake, meaning 'soft' in reference to the leaves.
The species name 'sylvestris' is from the Latin for ‘of the woods’ and, so, a woodland plant but the application is often extended to mean a plant which grows in the wild.
The common name mallow is derived from Old English malwe, which was imported from Latin malva.
This and other Malva species have been called by the curious names Cheese, Cheeses, Cheeseflower, or Cheese-weed, with numerous plays off the same idea, including Cheese-cake, Dutch Cheese, Doll-cheeses, Fairy-cheeses, Pick-cheese, or Cheese-log. This is due to the wheel-shaped carpels that remain after the flower petals fall, and is supposed to resemble miniature cheese wheels, small enough for use by the fairies.
This plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. According to archaeological findings, the first use of mallow was nutritional rather than therapeutic, as evidence points out that young mallow leaves were consumed by humans around the 8th century BCE, possibly due to their pleasant, sweet taste and nutritional value.
Throughout history, Malvas have long been cultivated for medicinal, religious, and culinary purposes. The leaves and flowers are edibles and even the unripe seed, often called 'cheeses' was widely available and a common source of food for the poor.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC to 8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus. He mentions Malva in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae" - meaning 'As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance'.
In 1931 Maud Grieve wrote that the "use of this species of Mallow has been much superseded by Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis), which possesses its valuable properties in a superior degree, but it is still a favourite remedy with country people where Marsh Mallow is not obtainable".
- Additional Information
Average Seed Count 30 Seeds Family Malvaceae Genus Malva Species sylvestris Cultivar Zebrina Common Name French Hollyhock Other Common Names Tall Mallow Other Language Names IR. Lus na meall Muire, Fr: Mauve des Bois Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy -25°C (-13°F) Flowers White to pink flowers with purple, almost black 'flamed' markings. Natural Flower Time July to September Height 90 to 120cm (36 to 48in) Spread 45 to 60cm (18 to 24in) Position Full Sun to Partial Shade Soil Prefers a reasonably well-drained and moderately fertile soil. Time to Sow Sow in February to June or September to October Growing Period This perennial plant is often grown as a biennial or an annual Germination 7 to 21 days.