Nature Bulletin No. 336-A March 15, 1969
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Traveling across Illinois on a slow train one day, we saw a fat man
leaning out of the open window beside him, watching the right-of-way.
Occasionally he would grab something from the paper sack and toss it
out. Grinning rather sheepishly at our curiosity, he explained: "I gather
hollyhock seed. Maybe a bushel. Scatter it in likely spots everywhere 1
go. They look kinda pretty and friendly along the tracks". Bless the man
! We've been doing the same thing ever since, especially along the
highways and byways.
One of our beloved and old-fashioned flowers, especially in sunny
nooks or as a stately colorful border for gardens, the hollyhock, a native
of China, was brought to Europe by the Crusaders and thence to
America by the Pilgrims. Its straight and sturdy stalks, sometimes as
much as nine feet tall, are clothed with rough dark-green leaves and
studded with large showy flowers -- either single or double -- whose
thin translucent petals seem to glow by their own light. Each plant bears
blossoms all of the same color which may be pure white, yellow,
lavender, red, maroon, a purple so deep it is almost black, or even
The hollyhock, along with about 800 other herbs, shrubs and small
trees, belongs to the Mallow Family which, although rather small as
plant families go, includes such unexpected but very important
bedfellows as Cotton, Okra, and the Jute plant, of India, from which we
get burlap, twine, gunny sacks and many such products. Other members
are the Hibiscus, Marsh Mallow, Rose of Sharon, a few house plants
such as "Flowering Maple" and some of our common garden weeds.
Many of them bear large showy fivepetalled flowers but the distinctive
feature of them all is a remarkable fusion of the stamens into a tube
surrounding the stigma.
Hawaiians are proud of their "state" flower, the gorgeous Hibiscus, but
we have two or three native kinds, the Rose Mallows, growing near
streams, lakes and sloughs here in Cook County. The have pink or red
flowers several inches across. Another relative, with rose-colored
flowers, is found in only two places in the United States: on a gravelly
island in the Kankakee River and one spot in western Virginia. Of 200
odd kinds of hibiscus, we are most familiar with the hardy shrub or
small tree called Rose of Sharon, planted for its deep green foliage and
its abundance of hollyhock-like flowers of dark red, purple or white.
Marshmallow candy is now made from syrup, starch and gelatin beaten
together but it used to be made from the sweet gummy bark on the roots
of the Marsh Mallow. This waist-high perennial, with its showy pink
flowers, is a native of European marshes which now grows wild in parts
of the Eastern United States.
Velvetleaf -- also called Buttonweed or Butterprint -- with large fuzzy
heart-shaped leaves and yellow flowers, is a fast-growing weed of late
summer in the Corn Belt. It is a European mallow first described by the
ancient Greeks. The sprawling Round-leafed Mallow with spicy round
seedpods called "Cheeses" by farm children, is a serious garden pest.
Okra, or Gumbo, is an African hibiscus cultivated as a vegetable in our
Southern States and the West Indies. Its slender mucilaginous seedpods,
six or more inches long, are gathered green for gumbo soups and stews.
We all know King Cotton, man's most important fiber plant for 3000
years. Sea Island cotton has yellow flowers but the upland cottons,
which furnish most of our crops, bear creamy white flowers which
change to pink and then deep red. A cotton field in bloom is something
So was the famous old Showboat -- Cotton Blossom.
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Update: June 2012