The gorgeous pink, flaring, bell-shaped flowers of the so-called "Marsh Mallow" may be seen near the edges of brakish marshes during midsummer along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Florida and Louisiana, and also inland in the Great Lake region. Wherever they are found, they will recall the dignified Hollyhock sentinels that used to peep over the red brick walls in the Kate Greenaway nursery picture-books we all loved so well. And it's a natural suggestion, too, since both flowers are cousins. The Hollyhock came to us from China, where it certainly could never see over the wall! There is a certain tropical air about the Rose-Mallow that impresses one with its grandeur. It is so large and stately, so fresh and lovely, so prosperous and beautiful, this tall, handsome plant, that one cannot well resist the temptation to become better acquainted with it. But this is not altogether an easy matter, because it chooses to keep aloof from inquisitive mortals and has a tantalizing way of growing just beyond one's reach in the deep, treacherous quagmire where it is found. It is one of our largest wild flowers, and measures from four to seven inches broad. The five large, rounded, wedge-shaped petals are a pure, rosy pink in colour, sometimes entirely white, and often marked with a rich, crimson blotch at the base. They are strongly ribbed. The long, slender pistil splits into five flat-headed tips, and for most of its length, it is enclosed with a tube bearing many pale yellow stamens. The five-parted calyx is supported with a row of ten narrow bractlets. The flowers are clustered on short stems at the top of the stout, leafy, cane-like stalks, several of which spring from a perennial root, and rise from four to seven feet in height. The large, oval leaves taper sharply to a slender point, and are rounded at the base. Often they have a short pointed lobe on either side. The margins are indented with small, rounded teeth. The surface is smooth above and the colour is full green. The underside is covered with a soft, whitish down, and the ribs show prominently.
The Marsh Mallow, Althaea officinalis, is a much smaller and altogether different species, which has been introduced from Europe and has become naturalized in salt marshes along the coast from Massachusetts to New Jersey and locally westward to Michigan and Arkansas. In Europe it is raised for its thick roots, from which is obtained a mucilage used in making the white marshmallow candy sold at every confectionery store, and also as an important ingredient in preparing cough syrups. It is interesting to note that another relative is the common okra, a familiar market vegetable, which yields a thickening substance used in making soup. Still another kinsman, the Rose of China, is a hot-house species, whose petals, it is said, are employed by Chinese housewives in staining their teeth black!