MALLOW FAMILY - Malvaceae: Swamp Rose-mallow; Mallow Rose
Flowers--Very large, clear rose pink, sometimes white, often with crimson centre, 4 to 7 in. across, solitary, or clustered on peduncles at summit of stems. Calyx 5-cleft, subtended by numerous narrow bractlets; 5 large, veined petals; stamens united into a valvular column bearing anthers on the outside for much of its length; 1 pistil partly enclosed in the column, and with 5 button-tipped stigmatic branches above. Stem: 4 to 7 ft. tall, stout, from perennial root. Leaves: 3 to 7 in. long, tapering, pointed, egg-shaped, densely white, downy beneath; lower leaves, or sometimes all, lobed at middle.
Preferred Habitat--Brackish marshes, riversides, lake shores, saline situations.
Distribution--Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico, westward to Louisiana; found locally in the interior, but chiefly along Atlantic seaboard.
Stately ranks of these magnificent flowers, growing among the tall sedges and "cat-tails" of the marshes, make the most insensate traveller exclaim at their amazing loveliness. To reach them one must don rubber boots and risk sudden seats in the slippery ooze; nevertheless, with spade in hand to give one support, it is well worth while to seek them out and dig up some roots to transplant to the garden. Here, strange to say, without salt soil or more water than the average garden receives from showers and hose, this handsomest of our wild flowers soon makes itself delightfully at home under cultivation. Such good, deep earth, well enriched and moistened, as the hollyhock thrives in, suits it perfectly. Now we have a better opportunity to note how the bees suck the five nectaries at the base of the petals, and collect the abundant pollen of the newly-opened flowers, which they perforce transfer to the five button-shaped stigmas intentionally impeding the entrance to older blossoms. Only its cousin the hollyhock, a native of China, can vie with the rose-mallow's decorative splendor among the shrubbery; and the Rose of China (Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis), cultivated in greenhouses here, eclipse it in the beauty of the individual blossom. This latter flower, whose superb scarlet corolla stains black, is employed by the Chinese married women, it is said, to discolor their teeth; but in the West Indies it sinks to even greater ignominy as a dauber for blacking shoes!
Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis), a name frequently misapplied to the Swamp Rose-mallow, is properly given to a much smaller pink flower, measuring only an inch and a half across at the most, and a far rarer one, being a naturalized immigrant from Europe found only in the salt marshes from the Massachusetts coast to New York. It is also known as Wymote. This is a bushy, leafy plant, two to four feet high, and covered with velvety down as a protection against the clogging of its pores by the moisture arising from its wet retreats. Plants that live in swamps must "perspire" freely and keep their pores open. From the Marsh Mallow's thick roots the mucilage used in confectionery is obtained, a soothing demulcent long esteemed in medicine.