Sphaeralcea coccinea (Scarlet Globe-mallow)
|Also known as:||Cowboy's Delight, Red False Mallow|
|Life cycle:||biennial, perennial|
|Habitat:||sun; dry prairie and plains|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||4 to 12 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Flowers are saucer shaped, ¾-1 inch across with 5 broad, reddish-orange petals, often notched in the center, in a short, dense cluster at the tip of stems and branches. The center is green with a fountain-like spray of fine, thread-like yellowish green styles surrounded by yellow tipped stamens. The outer sepals and short stalks are covered in dense, white hairs.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are alternate, ¾ to 2 inches long, deeply 3-lobed with variable wedge or spatula shaped lobes which are often further divided, and a ½ to ¾ inch stalk. The lobe edges are smooth and both the surfaces and the stalk are covered in short, dense, white hairs that give the plant a silvery green color. The surface can appear dotted; magnification shows that each hair has 5 radiating branches. Stems emerge from extensive underground roots, typically branching from the base to form bushy multi-stem clumps or colonies, only sparsely branched in the upper stems. The growth is typically sprawling but rising at the tips (decumbent) and, like the leaves, silvery green from dense, white hairs.
Scarlet Globe Mallow is a decidedly western species of the great plains. Its North American distribution is a surprisingly abrupt line from central Texas, straight north to the eastern borders of the Dakotas. It is quite common all points west but for all intents and purposes does not exist east of that line. While likely never widespread even prior to the agricultural transformation of the land, it has been documented only once in Minnesota in a wildlife management area in Lac Qui Parle county in 1986. Unfortunately as mishaps happen, the location was inadvertently treated for weedy invasive species in 1987 and the population was snuffed out (here's the whole story). Whether to ever appear here again or elsewhere along our western border counties, it is a lesson of the challenges faced in managing wild native habitats for encroaching weedy non-native species.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken near Garrison, ND.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?