Checker Mallow

Checker Mallow © DSchiel

Dwarf Checkerbloom
Sidalcea malviflora ssp. malviflora

Description (Jepson,

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Mallow Family (Malvaceae)
  • Perennial herb
    • Generally grows from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
    • Whole plant coarsely to bristly hairy, especially at base
  • Stems
    • Decumbent (lying on the ground before ascending)
  • Leaves
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) and simple (not divided into leaflets)
    • 2 types
      • Lower leaves rounded and shallowly lobed
      • Upper leaves usually more deeply lobed
    • Coarsely hairy on both sides and fleshy
    • Stipules (pair of leaf-like structures at the base of the leaf stalk) are undivided
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up) with evenly spaced flowers
      • Short pedicels (stalks of single flowers in a cluster) make the inflorescence appear a spike (an unbranched stem with stalkless flowers)
      • Bracts (modified leaves) at base are short (≤ 0.2 in.), leaflike, and undivided
    • Each cup-shaped flower has 5 free petals
      • Pink to rose, with white veins
      • Splays in age
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
  • Height to 24 in.
Leaf © DSchiel


  • Native to California
    • Grows in coastal prairie, open forests, and scrub
    • See Calfora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows in Oregon
  • Grows at elevations to 1,650 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Pollen and nectar source for native bees
    • Nectar source and larval food source (host) for butterflies, i.e. gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus), common checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis), two-banded checkered-skipper (P. ruralis), painted lady (Vanessa cardui), and West Coast lady (V. annabella)
  • Native people
    • Plant eaten after steaming in an earth oven
    • Dried leaves used as a spice in manzanita berry preparations
    • Infusion used for treating internal injuries

Name Derivation

  • Sidalcea (si-DAL-see-a) – from Sida and Alcea, names of related genera in the Mallow family
    • Both Sida and Alcea are Greek names for mallow
  • malviflora (mal-vi-FLOR-a) – from the Latin malva “mallow” and flora “flowers,” for the mallow-like flowers
    • Malva comes from the Greek malache “to soften,” referring to the leaves and a soothing skin ointment made from the seeds of mallows (Malva species), also in the Mallow family (Malvaceae)
  • Checker mallow – as with the name checkerbloom, commonly used for plants in the genus Sidalcea, referring to the pattern of veins on the petals of some species


  • Geophytes, e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, are adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • Flowers open in the morning and close at night (Lady Bird 2007)
    • This process is an example of nyctinasty, which refers to diurnal and nocturnal changes (single or repetitive) exhibited by the leaves and flowers of some plants (van Doorn 2003)
  • Checker mallow is highly variable throughout its range with many subspecies (Lady Bird 2007)
    • Subspecies indicates a geographically-separated population with distinct morphological characteristics; when not isolated, interbreeding is possible
    • Variety indicates a population with small morphological variations, e.g. color, seen throughout the geographic range of the species; interbreeding is possible
    • In practice, botanists have not consistently applied these ranks
    • Jepson notes that the subspecies malviflora, found at Edgewood, “probably has been the [subspecies] most damaged or modified by coastal development, resulting in local extinctions or intermediate forms

ID Tips

Checker MallowFringed Checker Bloom
Growth Habitperennialannual
Habitatnon-serpentine grasslandsserpentine grasslands
    Shapecup-shaped, splaying in age

petals usually overlap at base

petals narrow, creating 5 tiny “windows”
    Colorpink to rosepink, with white base
    Bracts¹short (≤ 0.2 in.)

leaflike and undivided
long (≤ 0.4 in.)

frilly, divided into 2-4 narrow lobes
    Spacingclusters more evenly spacedclusters crowded
Stipules²undivideddivided into narrow lobes
Blooming Periodearly spring (grasses green)late spring (grasses brown)
1. Bracts: modified leaves at the base of the flower
2. Stipules: pair of leaf-like structures at the base of the leaf stalk
Flower of Checker Mallow (L), Fringed Checker Bloom (R)
© AKim (L), DSchiel (R)

At Edgewood

  • Found in grasslands
    • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant (S. malviflora)
  • Flowers February – June

See General References

Specific References

Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 2007. Sidalcea malviflora. Plant Database. University of Texas at Austin.

Shapiro, A.M. and T.D. Manolis, 2007. Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.

van Doorn, W.G. and U. van Meeteren. 2003, Aug. 1. Flower opening and closure: A review. Journal of Experimental Botany 54: 1801–1812. Oxford Academic.