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?
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.
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.
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.
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.