Turk’s cap is a tough, colorful native Texas beauty

Published on Wednesday, 9 August 2017 16:56 - Written by ANDIE RATHBONE, Smith County Master Gardeners

Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) is a great Texas native plant that hummingbirds and butterflies absolutely love. It ranges from the Texas Gulf Coast to Florida to the West Indies, Mexico and Cuba. In the South Texas it is evergreen, flowers all year long and can reach 9 by 9 feet. In our area, however, it will die to the ground in the winter and grow to a maximum size of 4 by 4 feet.

Turk’s cap got its botanical name from Thomas Drummond, a Scottish botanist who was curator of the Belfast Botanical garden and discovered the plant in Texas in 1833. The plant produces upright or somewhat reclining stems with 4- to 6-inch-diameter tomentose (leaves that are covered with downy hairs) green leaves and normally has bright red flowers with extended red stamens. The flower petals do not totally open, but are swirled and resemble a Turkish turban, thus the plant’s name There is also a white variety that is attractive but relatively hard to find.

There are a few newer varieties, including a couple introduced by Smith County Horticultural Extension Agent Greg Grant. The pink flowers of one, “Pam Puryear,” look great against the plant’s apple-green foliage. Grant has also introduced “Big Momma,” a cross between the native and a tropical Turk’s cap, whose flowers are one-third larger than the typical Turk’s cap. It grows 5 to 6 feet tall and wide.

Turk’s cap grows in almost any soil. It is drought tolerant as far west as Midland, but also tolerates Dallas’ frequently soggy gumbo clay and is especially welcome in shady sites. In full sun it may get mildew, which crinkles the leaves. The plant will produce marble-size red fruit, which is edible and enjoyed by a number of birds and animals. When the fruit is ripe, it splits into five sections, each containing one seed. Fresh, untreated seeds can be planted.

Turk’s cap may also be propagated by soft-wood cuttings or root divisions, and it will colonize by self-layering.

Turk’s cap was named a Texas Superstar in 2011. Plant it in your garden for carefree color that attracts pollinators to your landscape.