Mallow Family

Checker Mallow © KKorbholz

Malvaceae (mal-VA-see-ee)

Iconic Features

    • Broad leaves, usually palmately lobed
    • Showy funnel- or saucer-shaped flowers
    • Flower parts in fives
    • Numerous stamens fused into a tube

    Description (Jepson)

      • Annuals, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and small trees
      • Eudicotyledons (eudicots) – a major lineage of flowering plants including most plants traditionally described as dicots and generally characterized by
        • 2 seed leaves (dicotyledon)
        • Netted (reticulate) leaf venation
        • Flower parts in fours and fives
        • Pollen grains with 3 pores (tricolpate)
        • Vascular bundles in stem arranged in a ring
        • Taproot system
      • Leaves
        • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) and simple (not divided into leaflets)
        • Usually palmately lobed and toothed
        • Often with minute starlike (stellate) hairs
      • Flowers
        • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) in many forms
        • Usually bisexual, radially symmetric, funnel-shaped flowers
          • 5 petals and 5 partially-fused sepals (usually green, outer flower parts)
          • Numerous fused stamens (male flower parts) usually form a tube surrounding the pistil (female flower part)
        • Often with sepal-like bracts (modified leaves at flower base)
        • Ovary superior (attached above other flower parts)
      • Fruit is usually a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity) with many wedge-shaped segments, like a cheese wheel


        • Approximately 4,000 species worldwide, especially in warm climates
          • Includes hollyhocks, hibiscus, cheeseweed, checkermallow, and flannel bush
          • Also includes the economically-important plants cocoa (Theobroma cacao) and cotton (Gossypium species)
        • Most species have mucilaginous vegetation with natural gums, which become gelatinous when crushed
          • The Old World herb Althaea officinalis, which grows in marshes, is the original source of marshmallows (Petkewich 2006)
            • Ancient Egyptians were known to use the boiled root pulp as a cough medicine and confection
            • 19th-century confectioners whipped and molded the root sap into a fluffy candy
            • Today, most “marshmallows” are made from gelatin
          • The seed pods of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), which become slimy when cooked, are used in some gumbos
        • Scientific and common name from the included genus Malva, from the Greek malache, “mallow”
        • Represented by 3 species at Edgewood

        See General References

        Specific References

          Petkewich, R. 2006, April 17. What’s That Stuff? Marshmallow. Chemical & Engineering News: Science & Technology 84:16, p. 41.