Thursday, August 2, 2012
Hats off to Turk's Cap
I wanted to take a minute to tell you about one of my favorite garden plants, Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii). It’s a perennial, semi-woody shrub that gets to be about 4 feet high and wide, and I’ve planted it all around the barn, in light shade.
I like Turk’s cap because it blooms throughout our long, hot Florida summer, which can be a dead and dreary time in the garden, sort of miserable and not very colorful—unless you’re growing Turk’s caps, that is. The flower is the brightest red, and never fully opens, remaining bud-like instead (and turban-shaped). The curving petals wrap around a long, red, protruding stamen.
Turk’s cap is a great hummingbird attractor, which is probably the main reason I snatch it up every time I see it at the nurseries. Since June we’ve had ruby throats zooming around the yard, zipping from flower to flower. It’s so neat to look out the window and see one hovering, sipping—all silvery, and flashing in the sun.
Turk’s cap blooms pretty much all summer, and when the flowers are done, there are shiny, candy-apple red fruits to look forward to in fall. The fruits remind me of tiny cherries or cherry tomatoes and are gobbled up by cardinals and mockingbirds. People can eat them too, I’ve read, but I haven’t tried them yet. I’m sure I will this fall—because my gardening books make them sound quite tempting, crisp and apple-flavored.
Around these parts, Turk’s cap freezes back in winter. During the cold months, all you’ll see of it are some silvery sticks. But it comes back reliably in spring. The broad, velvety leaves are profuse and heart-shaped. Turk’s cap isn't too fussy when it comes to light conditions, but I like it best in a little shade since the leaves tend to fade and yellow a bit in full sun.
Turk’s cap isn’t native to Florida (it is native to Texas). However, it’s usually included on Florida-friendly plant lists because it’s drought tolerant and low maintenance. There’s no need to fertilize or baby it.