Lavatera assurgentiflora, Tree Mallow

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Lavatera assurgentiflora

This useful and fast-growing semi-woody evergreen shrub makes a quick-growing long-flowering windbreak. It has gorgeous large tropical-looking flowers of a rich, luscious maroon, with large, flexible bright- green leaves. The flowers are produced over a long period of time, spring through summer. Endemic to the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, it grows surprisingly easily and quickly in many other locations, especially along the coast, where it is not bothered a bit by wind and salt-spray. Germinating readily from seed, it can become 5' tall in a year, topping off at about 8'.

It thrives in sun to light shade and is adaptable as to soil, but it looks better in fairly lean, well-drained areas. Pruning helps it stay manageable, but it's best in informal gardens and near tidier plants to provide consistent privacy or barriers. Relatively short-lived, it reseeds well on its own, so replacement plants are quickly grown. Deer like it so it usually needs to be on the protected side of the fence.

Easily grown in the home nursery, tree mallow is a good plant to grow from seed with children. The young "peas," the immature seeds, before they ripen and mature, are delicious eaten raw or cooked.