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Gardener's Dirt: Turk's cap named 2011 Texas Superstar

Aug. 18, 2011 at 3:18 a.m.

This red Turk's cap, also called Texas wax mallow, is blooming in the informal backyard landscape of Leroy and Lynda Hiller in Georgetown.  The 1-inch flowers usually appear spring through fall or longer. This native Superstar is also very cold hardy.

This red Turk's cap, also called Texas wax mallow, is blooming in the informal backyard landscape of Leroy and Lynda Hiller in Georgetown. The 1-inch flowers usually appear spring through fall or longer. This native Superstar is also very cold hardy.

With the scorching weather and drought conditions, it's great to see our native Texas Turk's cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, designated a 2011 Texas Superstar plant. This plant, along with a couple of new cultivars of the Turk's cap, also called Texas wax mallow, are great attractors of pollinators, especially hummingbirds. They are especially attracted to the bright red flowers that stay partially closed, making the nectar even sweeter.


The Turk's cap grows in any type of soil - acid or alkaline - is drought and sun tolerant, blooms well in part sun or part shade spring through fall, and is perennial for almost the whole state of Texas, from Zones 7-11. Above Zone 7, it can be planted as an annual. In addition to being readily available to gardeners and nurseries, it can be propagated by layering, cuttings, and seeds, which are produced in little red apple-like, mealy fruit containing five seeds.

The flowers of the Turk's cap stick up in the air and are usually less than two inches long. They have five petals that swirl tightly, like a turban, wrapping around the pistil and stamen, which protrude from the tips of the petals.


The common native Turk's cap blooms bright red, but there is also a white flowering one. You can also find a red Turk's cap with variegated foliage and the newer varieties called Big Momma and Pam Puryear Pink.


Although Turk's cap prefers moist soil, it is quite drought tolerant. Planting them in spring is best, but you can also plant them in fall, or even summer. They really are an easy plant. The root system of the Turk's cap is quite sprawling, and planting it in part shade can keep it to about 2-3 feet high and within bounds. Otherwise it can get up to 5 feet or more. A shearing in May can keep it shorter if it is growing too fast. (Hint: Start those cuttings for friends and neighbors or yourself.) Even after a hard freeze, it will start to come out pretty early in the year.


The leaves are dark green, slightly three-lobed and generally heart-shaped. If growing in full sun, the leaves might start to get crinkly; this is reportedly from mildew.


Don't confuse this Turk's cap with the giant Turk's cap, which is found in tropical areas of the United States along the coast. The giant Turk's cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. mexicanus (or penduliflorus), is not a cold-tolerant plant and will not return as soon from a freeze. Thus, the harder the freeze, the later it blooms in the year. Many times, it is referred to as Sleepy Hibiscus because it blooms so late in the year. It has also been called Christmas Bells. The pendant flowers are much longer on the tropical giant Turk's cap, reaching three or so inches long and hanging down, instead of reaching upward like the native Turk's cap.


There are three different colors of the giant Turk's cap - red, white and pink. The leaves look more like the tropical hibiscus and they usually don't get seeds. Although these tropical or giant Turk's caps are great in deep South Texas, they do not perform well all over the state, and are not true superstars.


Since the giant Turk's caps do have large, beautiful flowers, Greg Grant, a well-known Texas horticulturist, wanted to produce a more desired plant that would be more cold-hardy with bigger blooms, so he developed a hybrid called Big Momma that has been around since 2005. Grant did this by crossing the red native Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) with a giant pink Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. mexicanus) to produce the Texas Superstar plant named Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii Big Momma. It's taller than the native and has blooms that are 1/3 bigger and more importantly, is more cold tolerant than the giant Turk's cap.


Going a step further, Grant developed a perennial, pink hardy Turk's Cap, Pam Puryear Pink, named after one of Texas' original Rose Rustlers and one of the first female graduates of Texas A&M. This cultivar was produced by crossing his red Big Momma with the native white Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii.


All of the Drummond varieties of Turk's caps are listed on the Texas Superstar website. They all make nice flowering perennials in your landscape and serve as good hummingbird, butterfly and bee attractors. Go out and find one of each of these Texas-tough plants.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at



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