It is called a weed by some, but I like the musk mallow (Malva moschata)—and not only for its subtly striated flowers and ferny foliage. Although the plant shows up every summer like a relative looking for a free vacation in the country, it is an attractive guest which takes care of itself. And, no, it is not the same as the marshmallow. While related, that latter plant belongs to the Althaea rather than the Malva genus and has much smaller flowers.
A short-lived perennial, the musk mallow self-sows reliably enough to make it long-lived in USDA zones 3 through 8, albeit the plants that spring up this year may not be the same ones as last year’s. This mallow is, in fact, a wildflower in Europe and Asia and has become naturalized here in the U. S. too.
That does make it invasive, but you easily can weed it out of the places where you don’t want it and leave it in the empty spots which need filling. A traditional cottage garden plant, it will cover itself with pink or white 2-inch, musk-scented blooms, which usually begin appearing in late June or early July here in Pennsylvania.
The scent must be faint, since I’ve never noticed it except when uprooting the plants. Theoretically, musk mallow can continue to flower until September, but probably will have gone to seed by that time unless you remember to deadhead the blooms as they fade.
The type which has been most vigorous for me is the pink-flowered variety, which may or may not be ‘Rosea.’ (I’ve had it so long that I don’t remember!) There also is a white form called ‘Alba’ and an in-between silvery pink cultivar named ‘Apple Blossom.’ That last one grows to only about two feet in height while the others can reach three feet.
Oddly enough a malva seedling has rounded leaves when it germinates and may continue to retain those fuller basal leaves while it makes more finely cut foliage above them. The plant is not picky about soil, but—if it had its druthers—would opt for well-drained loam of medium fertility in full sun.
All parts of this mallow are supposed to be edible, and some people consume the young leaves as salad or boiled greens in the spring. The immature seeds, which appear in wheels called “cheeses,” supposedly have a nutty flavor. Even though similar in shape to hollyhock seeds, they are much smaller, so I’m guessing you would have to pick several cheeses to make much of a snack.
The blooms can be used to decorate desserts. Considering how attractive they appear when glazed with rain, I suspect they also would look pretty if candied for use atop of cakes.
Since I haven't tried to eat my malvas, I can neither confirm nor deny their edibility. If you want to consume yours, please make sure of their identity first.
Although not difficult to germinate, malva often takes its time. After pressing the seeds into the surface of damp seed-starting mix, you either can leave them uncovered or sprinkle them with no more than 1/16 inch of the mix. They may pop up within as little as 3 days, but often can take between 2 and 3 weeks to sprout. Once you’ve set malva plants in your garden, though, you never should have to sow them again!
Photos: All of the photos in the article are my own.