Mallow Family

Compiled by Marc Williams                          May, 2018

Malvaceae / Mallow Family / Malvales

A link to a photo album of members of the Malvaceae can be seen a Thomas Elpel's site below

The taxonomy of the Mallow family is under revision. The Basswood family (Tiliaceae), Flame Tree/Chocolate family (Sterculiaceae) and Silk Tree family (Bombacaceae) are now often included in sub-families of the Malvaceae due to genetic studies showing various members from each family having a closer relationship to other families than their own (Judd, Campbell, Kellog, Stevens, & Donahue, 2008; Spears, 2006). However, revision is probably on going and at least one very reputable source went the other direction in response and expanded to ten families based on plant form (morphology) and pollen studies (palynology) (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007). Even with a strict treatment of the Malvaceae many tribes may exist including the Malopeae, Ureneae, Hibsceae, Malveae, Corynabutilinae, Malvinae, Abutileae (Heywood et al., 2007).


This family is known for its mucilaginous qualities. The vegetable Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is probably the most famous member indicative of such tendencies.  Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is grown for its Vitamin C rich calyces used in teas such as Red Zinger from Celestial Seasonings. The oil from Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) is often pressed for processed food products. The fruits and leaves of Baobab are also edible (“Malvaceae - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,” n.d.).


Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) is an outlier in this family as it is considered to be one of the only inedible members. Cotton seed meal is also a major fertilizer which can itself cause pollution. Interesting that Elpel cites the possible poisonous nature of Velvet leaf (Abutilon theophrasti) (Elpel, 2004, p. 78; Pammel, 1911).  The production of cotton is responsible for a large percentage of all the pesticides used in the world.


Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) attracts a wide variety of butterflies including the Cloudless Sulphur, Western Tiger Swallowtail, Blues, Hairstreaks, and Gulf Frittillary (Lewis, 1995).


Flower of an hour (Hibiscus trionum) is a weed. Prickly Fanpetals (Sida spinosa) is a common weedy plant of the southeast though it is native. Common Mallow (Malva neglecta) is a ubiquitous weed introduced weed throughout the country. According to the USDA numerous other species have been introduced as well (USDA, n.d.). Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) can spread locally.

Other Crafts:

Another famous fiber known as Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) comes from a species of the Hibiscus genus. The fibrous nature of many members in this family is readily apparent and probably worth some experimentation. The ornamental fruits of the Velvet leaf (Abutilon theophrasti) plant were used to press forms into butter and pie crusts. It also makes a great dried in arrangements.

Landscape Use:

Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and many cultivars are popular landscape plants throughout the tropics. Holly Hocks (Alcea rosea) are a popular ornamental in temperate gardens. They always make me think of Santa Fe and Taos New Mexico where they are used to stunning effect.

Literature Cited

Elpel, T. J. (2004). Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification (5th ed.). Pony, MT: HOPS Press.

Heywood, V. H., Brummitt, R. K., Culham, A., & Seberg, O. (2007). Flowering Plant Families of the World (Revised.). Buffalo, NY; Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books.

Judd, W. S., Campbell, C. S., Kellog, E. A., Stevens, P. F., & Donahue, M. J. (2008). Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach (3rd ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Lewis, A. (Ed.). (1995). Butterfly Gardens. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Malvaceae - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 7, 2011, from

Pammel, L. H. (1911). A Manual of Poisonous Plants. Chiefly of Eastern North America. Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press.

Spears, P. (2006). A Tour of the Flowering Plants: Based on the Classification System of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. St. Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

USDA. (n.d.). The PLANTS Database | USDA PLANTS. Retrieved March 10, 2009, from


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