1094 Alcea roseaCommon Names: hollyhock Family: Malvaceae (mallow Family)
This IS your grandmother's hollyhock. Maybe not as popular as they once were, hollyhocks are still beautiful, dependable and easy to grow. The hollyhock is a biennial, which means it requires two seasons of growth to complete its life cycle, establishing roots and growing leaves the first year, then flowering and fruiting in its second (and final) year. Hollyhock leaves are sandpapery rough, about 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) long and across, with 3-7 shallow lobes. Leaves are positioned from top to bottom along the erect, unbranched, bristly-hairy stem that often grows 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) tall. Some cultivars achieve 8 ft (2.4 m) or more in height. But hollyhocks are all about the flowers: Dozens of funnel shaped, five-petaled, yellow, red, pink, purple or white flowers, each 2-4 in (5-10 cm) across, all up and down the tall, slender stalk. Among the dozens of named cultivars are those with double flowers, those of a short stature, and those that reliably bloom their first year (so called "annuals"). Many flower colors are available. One of our favorites is 'Nigra' with deep brown-maroon flowers that look almost black. The popular Chater's Double Hybrids have dense, many-petaled flowers in a variety of colors, and 'Marjorette' is shorter with lacy semi-double flowers in pale pastels. 'Powder Puffs' has ruffled fowers, like, well, powder puffs.
Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) have been cultivated for so long we aren't sure where they originated, but they do grow wild in Turkey and Asia Minor, and that is probably where they first came under cultivation. Wild hollyhocks grow on dry, rocky hillsides and on fallow ground and waste places. They have escaped from cultivation and become naturalized in many other parts of the world.
CultureLight: Hollyhocks should be grown in full sun. Moisture: Grow hollyhocks in well drained soil, but be sure to water them during dry spells. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Although the roots of many hollyhock cultivars (especially the older classics) will survive winters down to 5°F (-15°C), and resprout the following spring, the plants usually don't bloom as well after their second season. You're better off planting new seed each year. Propagation: Although technically perennials, hollyhocks are usually grown as biennials. Seeds are sown in midsummer, the plants grow a strong root system, then overwinter and bloom the following summer. Many gardeners sow the seeds in a nursery bed in midsummer, then transplant the plants to their final location the following spring. Alternatively, you can often get away with planting the seeds of most modern cultivars in early spring, after the last frost, for blooming later that summer. For a head start, plant the seeds in pots 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost, then set out when Jack Frost departs for the season. The cultivars 'Summer Carnival' and 'Marjorette' are treated as annuals.
Because of their height and pole-like habit, hollyhocks are especially well suited for growing along a wall or fence. They are often used in mixed borders, especially near the rear where they can preside over summer's colorful parade of blooms. Shelter from strong winds if possible. Hollyhocks grow so tall, they usually require staking or tying up. Hollyhock rust, a debilitating fungus, attacks plants more than a year old, so it's almost always best to treat hollyhocks as biennials even though they often return in spring. (Those returning plants are still infected with the rust they caught the year before.) Plant new seeds every year or two for best results.
The family Malvaceae, with nearly a hundred genera, includes many valuable species such as the popular ornamentals in the genus Hibiscus, the edible okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), and the cotton plant (Gossypium hirsutum).
Steve Christman 9/6/08; updated 6/23/09, 3/31/11