Turk’s Turban — Great Perennial for the Hot, Dry Fall

September 17, 2010 | By | Comments (10)

Pop Quiz: How many plants can you name in the next five seconds that flower in sun or shade, love the heat, tolerate drought, are tough as nails, and bloom from summer through fall?

Dallas GWA 108

Time’s up. And you flunked. Couldn’t name one could you? Grumpy can. Here’s an old-timey Southern passalong plant that meets all of the above criteria. It’s called turk’s turban (Malvaviscus arboreus drummondii). And if your garden suffers from a paucity of late summer-early fall color, this is the plant for you and your crazy cousin, Artis.

Native to Florida west to Texas and Mexico, turk’s turban is a shrubby perennial that’s cold-hardy in Zone 7 southward. In the Tropical South (Zone 10), the plant is nearly evergreen, but elsewhere it usually dies down to the ground for winter and then arises the following spring. I took the shot below during a visit last week to the incredibly fabulous vegetable garden at Stonewall Jackson Elementary School in Dallas. The day was hotter than Satan’s toenails (a line I stole from a fan of our Facebook page), but the turk’s turban paired with lantana couldn’t have cared less.


Dallas GWA 110

The hallmark of turk’s turban (also called turk’s cap) is its bright red, oddly shaped flowers that never really open. The petals tightly corkscrew around a long, prominent stamen. Hummingbirds are big fans; deer aren’t. After the flowers fade, small, rounded, apple-like fruits form, changing from white to red as they ripen. Sharing the fruits is one way to share the plant. Another is to divide it in spring, as it spreads into colonies that make digging and dividing easy.

Dallas GWA 138

If you lack friends that will share a start with you, you probably have a personality disorder that requires professional attention. Or maybe garden centers in your area don’t sell it, because until Grumpy wrote about it, you never went in and badgered them to get it. Don’t get your undies in a wad. As usual, the Grump has located a trustworthy mail-order source — Woodlanders Nursery. Another good source is Top Tropicals.

I hope you do better on Grumpy’s next quiz. No gardener should be left behind.

To read more about passalong plants and the tradition of sharing them, click here. To explore the subject in more depth and laugh louder than a hyena circling a stray antelope, pick up a copy of my award-winning book (co-authored with Felder Rushing), Passalong Plants.

Gandhi said this book changed his life. Don’t believe me? Ask him.


  1. isaac

    Here in Texas it thrives in the wet areas of east Texas as well as the dry outcroppings of central Texas. It’s indestructible.

    October 2, 2010 at 9:38 am
  2. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I’d expect nothing less, Pam.

    September 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm
  3. Pam/Digging

    Turk’s cap is a staple in Austin gardens. There’s a white cultivar that’s especially pretty in shade and a new pale pink called ‘Pam Puryear’ or ‘Pam’s Pink.’ Naturally, I have one.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:53 am
  4. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Joseph, see Jim’s comment. It may be hardy for you, especially if you mulch it heavily in late fall. Who knows, with global warming, it may grow in Anchorage.

    September 20, 2010 at 3:11 pm
  5. UrsulaV

    Awesome! Always looking for more tough natives…

    September 20, 2010 at 10:43 am
  6. Jim Long

    Alas, had I known it wasn’t hardy up here in Zone 6 I wouldn’t have even tried! But, not knowing, it’s been growing happily in my garden for nearly 20 years. I just won’t tell it that it’s not supposed to be here.

    September 19, 2010 at 11:52 am
  7. Becky

    I don’t know a thing about Turks Cap – but I do know that the Passalong Plant book is a “must” – one of my favorites. Do yourself a favor and get a copy. It’s full of great info and is a great read too!

    September 18, 2010 at 7:26 pm
  8. east texas tree grower leone’

    Turks Cap is the best, ours in Richardson Texas even survived a constant onslaught from Pearl the Wonder Dog chasing the pool sweep, this is a keeper plant for all time.

    September 18, 2010 at 6:21 pm
  9. Joseph Tychonievich

    I really need to stop reading blogs from down south… I got all excited until I saw the whole zone 7 thing.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:01 pm
  10. Pam

    I found a pink cultivar last summer that is performing well…seems to be more cold hardy as it came back faster than the red ones did.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm

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