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PlantFiles: Hollyhock
Alcea rosea var. nigra 'The Watchman'

Family: Malvaceae (mal-VAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Alcea (al-KEE-uh) (Info)
Species: rosea var. nigra
Cultivar: The Watchman

Synonym:Althaea rosea

8 members have or want this plant for trade.


6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)

15-18 in. (38-45 cm)

USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 C (-40 F)
USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 C (-35 F)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun


Bloom Color:
Maroon (Purple-Brown)

Bloom Time:
Late Spring/Early Summer
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall


Other details:
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall
From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed; stratify if sowing indoors
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

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By Articulady
Thumbnail #1 of Alcea rosea var. nigra by Articulady

By berrygirl
Thumbnail #2 of Alcea rosea var. nigra by berrygirl

By berrygirl
Thumbnail #3 of Alcea rosea var. nigra by berrygirl

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By berrygirl
Thumbnail #7 of Alcea rosea var. nigra by berrygirl

There are a total of 10 photos.
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5 positives
No neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive geonnibanner On Jul 23, 2014, geonnibanner from Richmond, CA wrote:

Read about my experience with this plant on my blog. Here:

Positive goldandsylvan On Mar 3, 2013, goldandsylvan from Ukiah, CA wrote:

I had no idea this was such an old and useful plant. I grow it with several other kinds of hollyhocks in my cutting garden, even though I don't use hollyhocks as cut flowers. They are very picturesque with the other flowers, though, and I especially enjoy the black hollyhock together with the clear pink one.

Positive grovespirit On Jun 27, 2010, grovespirit from Sunset Valley, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

This is an heirloom plant named 'Watchman'- also called 'Sereno', 'Night Watchman,' 'Black Watchman,' and 'The Watchman'. It's the first Hollyhock I ever grew. Drought and heat tolerant.
There is a legend about this historic heirloom from a Mexican historical plant grower who called it 'Malvarrosa Sereno' (Translates as Night Watchman hollyhock.).
The legend:
This historic variety was first developed by fabric dyers and weavers in Spain, from common Eurasian hollyhocks that came from China and Europe. The color was darkened over several human lifetimes, by selectively breeding for darker and darker violet-maroon flowers. Because it was developed in a Mediterranean region of Spain, it is heat tolerant and also has some drought tolerance.
The 'black' variety of Hollyhock was highly sought after by homesteaders and pioneers during colonial times because it can be used as a multi-purpose ornamental, edible, medicinal, and dye plant. Also used for paper making, as a compost activator, and more!
Read about all its uses here: rosea

Once the so-called black variety was developed, it was named 'Sereno' - Spanish for night watchman. Since it's very easily propagated by seed, it rapidly spread through Europe, various Spanish colonies, and the rest of the world via trade. The spread was fast since Spain was a major sea power and highly involved in global trade for a long time.

My Mom and I first saw this historic plant while traveling in a very arid region of Mexico. It was growing in the Xeriscape garden of a very old, historic hotel. The historic building was built by Spaniards during colonial times. The gardens were kept as historically accurate as possible so as not to detract from the lovely architecture. We got permission from the groundskeeper to take some 'Sereno' seeds home to grow in our arid SW Texas home garden. They did great!

I've been fond of this variety ever since, but it seems to dislike the very humid climate in my current coastal area. Prone to rust and other leaf fungi when grown in a humid area, so I am not presently growing it. I will definitely grow it next time I live in an arid region!

Positive CurtisJones On Apr 30, 2008, CurtisJones from Longmont, CO wrote:

From your friends at Botanical Interests, inc.: These seductive towers of edible black satin blossoms are a wicked addition to the back of the flower border, along a fence, or as an accent in the cottage garden. From a distance, the dark color of 'The Watchman' is as black as the moonless night sky, but on closer inspection you can see its rich purplish burgundy cast. Bees and butterflies will be lured to the 3"-4" flowers that exude ample pollen. Try growing them as a backdrop for pink, red, yellow, or white flowers or anywhere with full sun where you can use something tall and exquisite.(Hardy to zone 2, but technically a biennial. Hollyhocks bloom in the second year after planting. However, they do reliably reseed themselves, making them seem more like a perennial.)

Positive berrygirl On Mar 4, 2007, berrygirl from Braselton, GA (Zone 7b) wrote:

The particular "black" hollyhock that I grow is this one- 'Watchman'. There are several 'black' cultivars out there. In my humble, non-expert opinion there isn't much difference in them at all. The only differences I have noted are the fact that there are "black" single flowered varieties and also there are double flowered ones. Irregardless of what name they go by I love them!

Grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, but mentioned even earlier by John Parkinson in 1629. He described this single hollyhock as being of a dark red like blackwood. Appears black on overcast days, but will have a hint of red in the bright sun. Plant next to a white fence for a spectacular contrast. Self-seeding biennial, 5-6' tall.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Phoenix, Arizona
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Chico, California
Richmond, California
San Diego, California
Ukiah, California
Braselton, Georgia
Norcross, Georgia
Park Ridge, Illinois
Derby, Kansas
Onekama, Michigan
Pinconning, Michigan
Carlsbad, New Mexico
Hobbs, New Mexico
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Eagle Pass, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Georgetown, Texas
Palmyra, Virginia
Lake Forest Park, Washington
Seattle, Washington

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