Of the four species of Hibiscus (Malvaceae) that grow in the Maryland Piedmont, two are alien (rose of Sharon and flower of an hour), and two are native. Starting in mid-July every year, I spend hours scouring the banks of the Potomac looking for these big, showy flowers.

Not that they’re hard to find. Despite being listed S3 (“At moderate risk of extinction or extirpation due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations…”), I see Hibiscus laevis (halberd-leaved rosemallow) by the hundreds.

The tricky thing is getting a good angle to shoot them. Halberd-leaved rosemallow is a wetland obligate, and with the flowers usually facing the river, the water level has to be low for me to get close enough to take decent pictures.


Hibiscus moscheutos (swamp rosemallow, crimson-eye rosemallow) is also a wetland obligate. It should be more common than H. laevis, but before this summer I had only seen them in the C&O Canal. This year I found several along the river banks.

The flowers of both species are about the same size. H laevis generally sports pink flowers, but they can be very pale, almost white, while H. moscheutos flowers are generally pure white. Both have a crimson throat. Color isn’t a reliable way to distinguish between them, though. Instead look at the leaves.



<—Hibiscus laevis leaf





Hibiscus moscheutos leaf—>


Even though I’m particularly attracted to small, subtle, hidden things, there’s something compelling about the rosemallows.

I Brake for Wildflowers…

…wouldn’t you?

Heading north on Scotty’s Castle Road in not-as-desolate-as-it-appears Death Valley, I spied a big ball of apricot. Apricot?! I’d seen many yellow flowers, and white, and purple and blue and pink, and even some orange dodder looking like balls of Silly String, but this was completely different. Knowing that no cars were behind (good situational awareness), I was able to brake pretty aggressively and have another look before rounding a corner. Half a mile later there was a turnout wide enough to allow a safe u-turn*, then back I went to have a close look at this:


It’s globemallow, aka desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua, Malvaceae), a perennial forb that can grow to three feet tall and three feet wide. When winters are wet, it puts forth an exceptional display. It’s found in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. I’d love to have one in my garden, but the mid-Atlantic is just too wet for a xerophyte like this.

Once stopped at this site, I got my camera bag and water bottles and set off exploring the nearby wash and a mini-butte, where I found plenty of belly flowers and two nifty cacti, neither of which were flowering. More on these another time. This is the only specimen of globemallow I saw on the entire trip.


*those of you who know about my former vocation can imagine how tempted I was to pull a bootleg instead