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Turk’s Cap - Shade-Bloomin’ Beauty

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor .. Photo: Lynn Pos

Although known formally as Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii, Turk’s Cap also answers to Drummond wax-mallow, Drummond’s turkscap, Red mallow, Texas mallow, Mexican apple, Manzanilla,

Sleeping hibiscus and Bleeding hearts.
Native to tropical regions of Mexico and Cuba and the Gulf States, Turk’s Cap is also found in Texas from the Rio Grande Plains and the Southern portion of the Edward’s Plateau, proliferating along stream banks and on the edges of woods, as well as the slopes.

A spreading shrub, turk’s Cap often grows as broad as it does high - typically two to three feet, but sometimes as much as 10 feet.

Interestingly, when Turk’s Cap is cut back as a ground cover, it will continue to bloom.

Although preferring partially shady sites and well-drained fertile soils, when cultivated, the easily adaptable Turk’s Cap thrives in many different sites, including full sun and heavier soils. It also does well in sandy, loamy, clay and limestone soils.

Turk’s Cap sports a semi-woody base with large leaves, notched and slightly fuzzy. The leaves look different when exposed to sun or shade. In shade, they lie flat, while bright sunshine brings out a crinkly textured appearance. Under ideal growing conditions, the leaves are a light to medium green.

Turk’s Cap flowers are usually red, but can also be white and pink, It blooms between May and November, with heaviest blooms arriving in late summer and fall.

The hanging hibiscus-like flowers never fully open and their petals overlap to form a loose tube around a protruding stamen. This image has been said to resemble a Turkish turban, giving rise to the plant’s most common name, Turk’s Cap. Its appearance makes this one of the most unique flowers on any native plant in Texas.

The conspicuous and abundant 2- to 3-inch flowers usually present in showy profusion during hot weather at the end of summer and early fall.

It should be noted that if Turk’s Cap is grown in partial shade rather than full sun, the number of flowers decrease. On the other hand, it’s one of few native plants that actually bloom in the
shade - so that’s saying something.

The flowers attract butterflies, bees, moths and, of course, birds, particularly coveted hummingbirds. Not surprisingly, it’s often described as “an excellent butterfly and hummingbird plant.”

As garden blogger LindaTX8 noted, “I’ve seen butterflies insert their proboscis through the sides of the closed blooms. They just ‘know’ how to get the nectar!”

The flowers morph into Turk’s Cap’s red apple-like fruit. In the fall, birds, such as wrens, cardinals and mockingbirds, and animals find the marble-sized fruit a taste treat. Apparently some humans even partake of it. Eaten either raw or cooked, the fruit reportedly tastes somewhat like apple - hence its Spanish name, Manzanilla, which means “little apple.”

Turk’s Cap propagation includes seeds, softwood cuttings and root division. The plant will germinate promptly from fresh, untreated seeds planted outside after the last frost as cold temperatures inhibit germination. The seeds should be lightly covered. Seeds should be collected as soon as the fruit turns ripe. Dry the fruit on screens. After a few days, the pulp will shrivel and can easily be rubbed off.

Turk’s cap is also propagated from softwood cuttings of 4- to 6-inches long with leaves from the bottom halves removed. Treat the cuttings with rooting hormone. Additionally, large clumps of Turk’s cap may easily be separated in early spring and transplanted to a new site and watered well.

Normally, this plant only needs supplemental watering in the hottest part of the summer. Unfortunately, the recent double whammy of record-breaking heat and epic drought might require a deep watering weekly.

To keep Turk’s Cap at a desirable height and shape, in early spring prune back half of the previous season’s growth to ensure good flowering in late summer months. Also, mulch in the summer and check for mealy bugs.

When used in landscaping, Turk’s Cap typically grows just half as large as it does in the wild. It makes a good ornamental accent in almost any native planting, especially in shady sites.
Additionally, once established, it’s both heat and drought tolerant, not to mention deer- and pest-resistant.

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