Monday, August 31, 2009

Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii )

For seven or eight months a year, our yard is home to a thriving population of hummingbirds. The Black-chinned Hummingbirds arrive first and stay longest. The Ruby-throated hummingbirds throng in spring and fall... but a few remain through summer, unwilling to leave the resort.

And one of the reasons they choose our home is the hedge of Turk's cap around the back of the house.

Turk's cap is in the mallow family (think distant hibiscus relative). It's drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, pest resistant, and...drumrolll...blooms in the shade. Turk's cap is very adaptable to soil type and moisture but happiest in full shade to part-shade. Most years, I add supplemental water only in the hottest part of the summer. This year's combination of record-breaking heat and epic drought is requiring a deep weekly watering.

The plants bloom in profusion from May into November and attract a range of butterflies and moths in addition to hummingbirds. In fall, there is berry-like fruit that attracts wrens, cardinals, mockingbirds, and other fruit-eating birds.

Turk's cap is native from central Texas east through Gulf coast states and north to Arkansas and South Carolina. It is deciduous in the cooler regions of the range, where gardeners cut it back to the ground after the first frost. I'm always a little anxious about this--it's scary to lop it all off. But my plants start sending out new shoots in March and we have blooms in May.

Bush size is 3-6 feet, depending on parentage, soil and water. Our experience has been that the plants take a year to get their roots settled, but after that they take off.

I hope you find a place for Turk's Cap in your landscape. The butterflies and birds will thank you.


  1. I just love Turk's Cap. The way it hides in the shake and peaks out as you walk by. The blooms are such a stunning red.

  2. Enjoyed this essay very much! In fact, I posted a link to it on my Facebook page. You might want to check out my community page:, which is about enjoying the outdoors in Austin and the Hill Country!


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