523 Malvaviscus penduliflorusCommon Names: Turk's cap, sleeping hibiscus, cardinal's hat Family: Malvaceae (mallow Family)
Since moving to Florida, I've come to associate this robust tender evergreen shrub with the Christmas season. Although Turk's cap blooms off and on throughout the year, it always seems to look its best in early winter when its brilliantly bright red flowers are most appreciated. Displayed against rich green leaves, the flowers resemble wilted hibiscus buds hanging from the bush. But these buds never open! The entire plant resembles the hibiscus to which it is closely related. The 2 in (5 cm) long tubular flowers appear to be constructed of crimson crepe paper that nods against the rich green foliage. The large oval leaves are about 8 in (20.3 cm) long. This shrub can grow to 10 ft (3 m) in height. The plant often becomes vinelike when grown in shady situations, sending out long stems that clamber over and up adjacent trees and bushes.
Malvaviscus arboreus is a very variable species that includes varieties, subspecies and forms that were formerly considered distinct species. Whereas some Turk's caps have large oval leaves, others have lobed leaves or leaves that are nearly round. Some are hairy; others glabrous. Some have elongated, drooping flowers with 2 in (5 cm) petals, and others have shorter, rounded, semi-erect flowers with 1 in (2.5 cm) petals. Some names previously used for this polymorphic species are Malvaviscus penduliflorus, M. conzatti, M. mexicanus, M. drummondii, M. grandiflorus and M. mollis.
Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) is native to a region stretching from Mexico through Central America to Columbia. It has made itself at home in Florida and is naturalized in many areas of central and south Florida and in other parts of the subtropical world.
CultureEasy to grow, Turk's cap will tolerate just about any soil. Light: Grow in full sun for a compact shape and the most flowers. It is, however, tolerant of shade, but will become more leggy. Moisture: Give average water. Turk's cap mallow is drought resistant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. This tropical plant will grow and bloom in Zone 8 but is killed to the ground by frost. It quickly recovers the next spring, usually blooming by late summer. Propagation: Turk's cap is very easy to propagate by cuttings taken at any time of the year.
Use Turk's Cap in mixed borders and in hedges (tolerant of clipping). It is virtually pest-free and easy to care for. Use as a lawn highlight. This was a very popular plant in the 50's and 60's when it was used in foundation and yard plantings throughout Florida. I guess everyone tired of it because it is rarely seen in newer landscape designs.
Turk's Cap is an inexpensive way to add color to your yard. It grows quickly and so is good for adding "bulk" to new gardens. It is drought resistant, mostly pest-free, and requires little maintenance. This shrub is also know as the sleeping hibiscus.
Jack Scheper 11/26/98; updated 12/09/01, 08/07/03, 10/28/03, 03/22/07, 12/2/12