Seashore mallow provides excellent color through fall
Published 9:23 pm Friday, August 30, 2019
By Kristi Hendricks
Kosteletzkya virginica is the final selection of the summer’s Virginia wildflower trilogy. Just by mentioning this herb’s more familiar name, seashore mallow conjures up the sensation of a light river breeze off the James on a hot, humid day. The fen-rose mallow both emerges and flowers late in the growing season, providing excellent color to Southside marsh margins from now into autumn.
You’ll recognize this striking plant straightaway but not for its grayish-green, hairy foliage. Rather, this showy mallow is best known for a profusion of bright pink, hibiscus-like flowers of five petals each. So attractive and characteristic of native coastal flora, the pink mallow was selected by the Virginia Native Plant Society as the “Wildflower of the Year” in 2004.
Yet the petals aren’t the only attention getter. Numerous fertilizing stamens form a tubular column around the blossom’s pistil creating the appearance of a miniature elephant’s golden trunk protruding from the flower petals.
All manner of insects perch on this flower part but not for very long. Each flower opens for just one day, wilts in the intense afternoon sun and finally closes with nightfall. Pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds, flock to the lovely flowers to gather nectar. Little do they realize the blossoms are self-pollinating and don’t require a pollinator to fertilize for seeds.
Although the seashore mallow grows naturally in salt, brackish and fresh water marshes, this late summer bloomer thrives under ordinary garden conditions as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out and tends to score toward the acidic side of the pH scale. Plant in rich, moist to wet soil in full sun conditions.
Naturalize seashore mallow with soft or corkscrew rush, blue flag iris and wetland grasses such as switchgrass in low-lying areas of your landscape that collect rainwater during summer thunderstorms. New plants self-seed under the parent plant, but are not considered overly invasive.
Propagate mallow from tip cuttings clipped for rooting before the plant flowers or wait for dark brown seeds to ripens in late autumn. Beware the seeds pods are covered in small hairs that can easily pierce the skin. Wearing garden gloves is highly recommended to avoid puncture.
This perennial overwinters with ease in Tidewater but dies back to the ground with the arrival of winter’s chill. After reaching a mature height of five feet in about five years, this short-lived wildflower’s time is unfortunately nearing an end.
Seaside mallow is available at native plant retail nurseries. A white-flowered cultivar called ‘Immaculate’ is also available in cultivation. To determine if a wildflower is native to Virginia, visit the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora. This searchable database, found at vaplantatlas.org, recognizes both common and botanical plant names.