The mallow family (Malvaceae) is a mixed bunch. It contains several weeds and some favorite crops. It also includes several ornamentals, such as hibiscus, hollyhocks, and linden trees. Scientists are still arguing over the specifics of the mallow family, but let’s see how it applies to gardening.
Most mallows are shrubs or trees that put out taproots. Leaves tend to alternate along a stem and are lobed. The leaves are usually smooth-edged. When they are toothed, you will see a vein reaching the edge of each tooth. You will also see a small, leaflike appendage at the base of each leaf, called a stipule. Stems of mallows contain mucous and may be covered with prickles. Mallow flowers tend to be large and showy. Fruits are usually capsules, nuts, or schizocarps. Members of the mallow family readily self-seed an area.
Mallows grow best in full sun with regular irrigation in summer.
Cocoa, kola nuts, and okra are members of the mallow family. So is durian, a tropical tree that produces giant-sized fruit. Some people love durian and others say it stinks. While you can’t eat it, cotton is also a member of this family. Even most of the mallow weeds are edible, but you probably don’t want to encourage them in your garden.
Mallow seeds have thick coats that protect them from harm. Those coats also slow germination until conditions are ideal. Very often, those seeds are weed seeds, and they can spread like crazy. Most mallow weeds are invasive to the US and are easily mistaken for one another. Common mallow weeds include:
Many of these weeds are edible, but they can also carry disease.
Mallow pests and diseases
Weedy members of the mallow family can carry several diseases, including rusts, tomato yellow leaf curl, and tomato spotted wilt. Members of the mallow family are also susceptible to bacterial leaf spot, gray mold, and phytophthora blight. Aphids and spider mites are the most common pests.
If you grow hollyhocks and okra, you may want to keep them at a distance from each other, to prevent the spread of disease.
Finally, the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis), a native herb of Europe, is a member of this family and its roots were used to make marshmallows some 4,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. Today, marshmallows are made out of sugar and gelatin.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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