Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Malvales - Family: Malvaceae
There are many kinds of mallows in Britain and Ireland, including several garden escapes. Mallows are usually low-growing plants, but Tree Mallow is an exception: this species can occasionally attain a height of three metres. Also known as Bush Mallow and Velvet Tree-mallow, until recently this plant was referred to by the scientific name Lavatera arborea.
Tree Mallow can be an annual or a biennial, but in more sheltered locations it is a perennial. Unfortunately, the stems crack easily and so plants in windy sites tend to suffer wind throw because in the wild they rarely have a stronger species to grow against as a windbreak.
Malva arborea has alternate, palmate velvety leaves each with five to nine lobes. The flowers, which are borne in clusters of two or more in the leaf axils, are 3 to 4cm across and have five bright pink -purple petals with darker purple veins.
In Britain and Ireland this species is most common in the south, while its distribution in Scotland is entirely coastal and mainly confined to the south and east, although it is now reported to be spreading on some Scottish coastal islands, maybe transported by birds but quite possibly via seeds carried there on coastal currents - the seeds are protected by a waterproof outer casing and so are protected from the salty water. Native to Western and southern Europe and northwest Africa, Tree Mallow has been introduced to many other regions including Australia, Chile, Argentina and some parts of southwest USA.
Tree Mallow favours nutrient-rich dry sandy soils and can cope with quite high levels od salinity.In Britain and Ireland this mallow species is only occasionally found far from the coast (save for garden plants and garden escapes) because it cannot cope with frost.
In Britain and Ireland Tree Mallow produces its flowers from June until September.
The common name and the specific epithet both refer to the tree-like stature of this wildflower.
Tree Mallow is often seen in parks and gardens. The leaves have long been used by herbalists as a poultice to treat sprains; and at one time this plant was also used as cattle fodder.