These gorgeous flowers are the ancestors of many of our garden Hibiscus varieties. There are two main color variants: white with dark red eye (forma peckii in older botanists) and the more common solid pink. They are not terribly common here, but locally abundant, as they were in this swamp in Cranberry, where they were blooming in late August. The USDA PLANTS database reports this species only in Allegheny and Fayette Counties in our area, but this colony was very near the line between Allegheny and Butler counties, and we are not entirely sure on which side of the border.
These pictures were taken with a cell phone while the photographer was standing knee-deep in poison ivy beside a busy four-lane highway. They are not ideal photographs, but, considering the circumstances, they are adequate. Such are the sacrifices we make to document the flora of southwestern Pennsylvania for you.
HIBÍSCUS L. Rose Mallow
Calyx involucellate at the base by a row of numerous bractlets, 5-cleft. Column of stamens long, bearing anthers for much of its length. Styles united, stigmas 5, capitate. Fruit a 5-celled loculicidal pod. Seeds several or many in each cell. — Herbs or shrubs, usually with large and showy flowers. (An old Greek and Latin name of unknown meaning.)
H. Moscheùtos L. (swamp R.) Tall perennial (1-2.6 m. high); the ■tern puberulent above; leaves ovate, pointed, toothed, the lower and sometimes the upper 3-Iobed, downy-whitened underneath, glabrous or slightly downy above: calyx and bracts densely stellate-puberulent; calyx in anthesis 2-3 cm. long, its lobes ovate or ovate-oblong; petals 6-12 cm. long, rose-color; capsule glabrous, subglobose, abruptly beaked. — River-banks and fresh or brackish marshes, near the coast, e. Mass., southw.; also lake-shores and swamps (especially near salt springs) westw. to Ont. and Mo. July-Sept.
Gray makes the crimson-eyed form a separate species, but it seems clear that in Cranberry, at least, it is the same species as the pink form:
Beautiful little Hibiscus flowers that last only a short time once they open (thus the common name). This plant came to the New World as a garden favorite, but has made itself at home in the most inhospitable places: this plant grew through the gravel at the edge of a gravel parking lot near Cranberry, where it was blooming at the end of September.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
HIBÍSCUS L. ROSE MALLOW. Calyx involucellate at the base by a row of numerous bractlets, 5-cleft. Column of stamens long, bearing anthers for much of its length. Styles united, stigmas 5, capitate. Fruit a 5-celled loculicidal pod. Seeds several or many in each cell. — Herbs or shrubs, usually with large and showy flowers. (An old Greek and Latin name of unknown meaning.)
H. triònum L. (FLOWER-OF-AN-HOUR.) A low rather hairy annual; upper leaves 3-parted, with lanceolate divisions, the middle one much the longest; fruiting calyx inflated, membranaceous, 5-winged, with numerous dark ciliate nerves; corolla sulphur-yellow, with a blackish eye, ephemeral.—Cultivated and waste ground, rather local. (Nat, from Eu.)
A pernicious weed to farmers, but to city dwellers an interesting and harmless wild flower. It likes cultivated or recently disturbed ground, and will happily sprout up in a porch planter. Originally it comes from Asia, where it is used both for food and for its tough fiber. This plant was growing on a sunny bank in Beechview that had recently been dug up.
The distinctive crown-shaped seedpods are fascinating to children.
Flowers. Golden yellow; about an inch wide; typical mallow form, with five regular petals and a column of united stamens; borne in leaf axils.
Leaves. Quite large, heart-shaped; velvety; strong pinnate veining; at right angles to fleshy petioles, which are about half the length of the leaves.
Stems. Thick and fleshy; velvety; about 3 feet high (a meter or so).
Gray describes the genus and the species:
ABÙTILON [Tourn.] Mill. INDIAN MALLOW. Carpels 2-9-seeded, at length 2-valved. Radicle ascending or pointing inward. Otherwise as in Sida. (Name of unknown origin. )
A. theophrasti Medic. (VELVET LEAF.) Tall annual, 6-12 dm. high; leaves roundish-heart-shaped, taper-pointed, velvety; peduncles shorter than the leaf-stalks; corolla yellow; carpels 12-16, hairy, beaked. (A. Avicennae Gaertn.; A. Abutilon Rusby.) — Waste places, vacant lots in cities, etc. (Nat. from India.)
In Nature’s Garden (1900), Neltje Blanchan remembers when this flower was a pampered garden pet:
There was a time, not many years ago, when this now common and often troublesome weed was imported from India and tenderly cultivated in flower gardens. In the Orient it and allied species are grown for their fibre, which is utilized for cordage and cloth; but the equally valuable plant now running wild here has yet to furnish American men with a profitable industry. Although the blossom is next of kin to the veiny Chinese bell-flower, or striped abutilon, so common in greenhouses, its appearance is quite different.
A beautiful flower that grows among the weeds in vacant lots and waste areas; this one was growing a few feet from the streetcar line in Beechview, where it was blooming in late July. Flowers are either pale pink or white, and the leaves are deeply lobed. (The similar Malva moschata has much more finely divided leaves.)
Gray describes the genus and the species:
MALVA [Tourn.] L. MALLOW. Calyx with a 5-leaved involucel at the base, like an outer calyx. Petals obcordate. Styles numerous, stigmatic down the inner side. Fruit depressed, separating at maturity into as many 1-seeded and indehiscent round kidney-shaped blunt carpels as there are styles. Radicle pointing downward. (An old Latin name, from the Greek name, malache, having allusion to the emollient leaves.)
* * Flowers only in the upper axils, somewhat racemose or paniculate.
[Because Gray's description of M. alcea depends on his description of M. moschata, we reprint both species here.]
M. moschàta L. (MUSK M.) A low perennial, with mostly simple pubescence; stem-leaves 5-parted, and the divisions once or twice parted or cleft into linear lobes, faintly musky-scented; flowers rose-color or white, large, on short peduncles crowded on the stem and branches; fruit downy. — Fields and roadsides, abundant in e. Canada and n. N. E., occasional elsewhere. (Nat. from Eu.)
M. álcea L. Similar, with short stellate pubescence; stem-leaves onlf once 5-parted or -cleft, the lobes incised; large flowers as in the last; fruit smooth; bractlets of the involucel ovate. — Escaped from gardens in N. E., Pa., and Mich. (Introd. from Eu.)
Also known as Cheeses, because the seedpods look like tiny wheels of cheese. This little mallow grows in yards and vacant lots all over the city. Its flowers are small, but up close are obviously similar to Rose of Sharon, Hollyhock, and other members of the Mallow family. This plant grew along a back alley in Beechview, where it was blooming in late June.
Gray lists this species as M. rotundifolia:
Calyx with a 3-leaved involucel at the base, like an outer calyx. Petals obcordate. Styles numerous, stigmatic down the inner side. Fruit depressed, separating at maturity into as many 1-seeded and indehiscent round kidney-shaped blunt carpels as there are styles. Radicle pointing downward. (An old Latin name, from the Greek name, malache, having allusion to the emollient leaves.)
* Flowers fascicled in the axils.
M. ROTUNDIFOLIA L. (COMMON M., CHEESES.) Stems procumbent from a deep biennial root; leaves round-heart-shaped, on very long petioles, crenate, obscurely lobed; petals twice the length of the calyx, whitish; carpels pubescent, even. —Waysides and cultivated grounds, common. (Nat. from Eu.)
A common garden shrub that has become something of a pest, invading hedges especially, from which it is very difficult to extricate. Perhaps the best solution is to let the Roses of Sharon take over the hedge: they make a good, dense hedge themselves, and they have these beautiful flowers. In Pittsburgh they happily bloom well into October if the weather cooperates. This bush grew beside an alley in Beechview.
From Gray’s Manual: H. SYRIACUS L. (SHRUBBY ALTHAEA of gardens.) Tall shrub, smooth; leaves rhombic- or wedge-ovate, pointed, cut-toothed or lobed; corolla usually rose-color. Established in thickets and by roadsides, N. J., Pa., and southw. July-Sept. (Introd. from Asia.)