Today I’m talking all about Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) – a plant native to my state of Texas! If you’re a flower gardener, you know that one of our chief struggles is finding plants that will flower in the shade.
Here in Texas, we have the dual challenge of finding plants that will do well in the shade, but also withstand staggering temps and drought conditions in summer. Turk’s Cap satisfies both of these needs while being very easy to care for.
Where You Can Find Turk’s Cap Growing
According to Wildflower.org, Turk’s Cap is native to various states in the southern US. There are different varieties of Malvaviscus arboreus that are native all the way down through South America. Here are the states where it is native:
Turk’s Cap Flower
Not only loved by humans like myself, it is also adored by hummingbirds and butterflies for its bright red flowers. These tightly twisted blooms never fully open, and resemble a Turkish fez -giving them the common name Turk’s Cap!
I love seeing the ruby throated hummingbirds visit my yard to drink from the flowers. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to capture a photo of them in action!
Turk’s Cap Plant Benefits
We have three plants growing in a shady corner of our backyard. I consider Turk’s Cap a great intro plant for someone wanting to add native plants to their yard because it is so easy to grow. Here are some of its benefits:
1. Provides reliable flowers all summer long
This happy plant starts blooming in May and doesn’t stop until November! In Texas in the heat of summer it can be hard to find a plant that wants to bloom, but Turk’s Cap will do so happily.
2. One of the few plants that blooms prolifically in shade
I can’t think of too many other Texas native plants that bloom so well in the shade. Many of us have trees in our yards creating shady conditions in many areas. This is a great plant to grow in these areas if you want a pop of color.
3. Grows well in a variety of sunlight conditions
While Turk’s Cap likes some shade, it is an easygoing plant and can perform well in a variety of sun conditions. I’ve even seen it planted in full sun here in Texas and still doing well. It will likely just require more regular watering if you plant it in full sun.
4. Provides food for pollinators and wildlife
When I pick a new plant to put in my yard one of my top criteria now is whether it offers wildlife benefits, and the this plant has several. Its red flowers attract hummingbirds and pollinators throughout its blooming period.
It also produces a small red fruit that can be eaten by birds and other wildlife. Even humans can eat them! It is known to taste like an apple, hence the Spanish name “manzanita” (little apple) being one of its common names.
5. It is a butterfly host plant!
Finally, we need more butterfly and moth host plants in our yards to help support those populations. Because without caterpillars we won’t have birds! You can read more about why this is so important in my Top 6 Benefits of Native Plants.
The good news is that Turk’s Cap is the host plant for the Turk’s Cap White Skipper butterfly.
According to butterfliesandmoths.org, the females lay their eggs on the twigs and buds of the host plant. Then the baby caterpillars feed on the plant’s leaves, flowers and fruit. So by having the plant in your yard you are providing an important habitat and food source!
The Many Names of Turk’s Cap
Plant names can be tricky, because one plant often has many aliases! That is why using their scientific name is so helpful because each plant has only one scientific name, but can have many common names. The scientific name of the Turk’s Cap I’m referring to is malvaviscus arboreus (var. drummondii). According to Wildflower.org its many common names include Wax Mallow, Mexican Apple, Sleeping Hibiscus, Bleeding Hearts, and Manzanita among others.
Just a heads up that there is another plant called Turk’s Cap that is malvaviscus penduliflorus. It is native to Mexico and looks similar to malvavisus arboreus except that its flowers hang down. Give it to the plant world to keep you on your toes!
Turk’s Cap Plant Care
As I’ve mentioned this is one easy plant to grow! Once the plant is established you do not need to water it very often. I give our plants a weekly watering during the summer, and less frequently the rest of the year.
If your Turk’s Cap gets leggy you can prune it back. It typically dies back in the winter, so I always cut it back to about 6 inches above the ground before the spring. If you don’t mind leaving the dead foliage up in the winter, it can provide shelter for birds and other little creatures!
Want to find more native plants in your area?
Check out our top tips:
- Low water needs once established.
- Can tolerate drought conditions and hot temps.
- Prune back plant in winter if it gets too leggy.
- Leave about six inches of the stems remaining above ground.
- Plant can be propagated in spring by soft wood cuttings, or by root separation. Water throughly once transplanted.
Turk's Cap is a great entry level plant if you are looking to add more native plants to your yard. It performs well in a variety of conditions and its prolific blooms attract hummingbirds and pollinators.
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