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)

  • 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
  • Annuals, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and small trees
  • 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
      • Often with bracts (modified leaves) at base
      • 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)
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of 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, “to soften,” referring to the leaves and a soothing skin ointment made from the seeds
  • 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: 41.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family