Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the April 13, 2014 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

Especially in Mexico we've seen many species belonging to what books often call the Mallow Family, the Malvaceae, but which I tend to call the Hibiscus Family, since most North Americans don't know what a mallow is. The mallow genus, Malva, is native to Eurasia and Africa, which explains why most Americans don't know it.

Still, one of the most rampant, vigorous weeds in certain disturbed spots around Uvalde is a mallow -- an invasive species from the Old World -- the one shown below:


The leaves on that plant look a bit like those of hollyhocks and the Rose of Sharon, which makes sense, because those species also are member of the big Malvaceae, along with such famous plants as cotton and of course hibiscuses. A better look at a leaf appears below:

Cheeseweed, MALVA PARVIFLORA, leaf

Happily, flowers in the Hibiscus Family are easy to recognize. You can see our Uvalde mallow's blossom showing some of the main features below:

Cheeseweed, MALVA PARVIFLORA, flower

Note that in the flower's center the numerous stamens join at the bases of their filaments to form a cylinder, which surrounds the slender style connecting the hidden ovary with its stigmas nestled among the stamens' bunch of anthers. When you see such a "staminal column," think "Hibiscus Family."

Fruits of species in the Hibiscus Family come in a variety of forms. One common type is produced by our mallow, shown below:

Cheeseweed, MALVA PARVIFLORA, schizocarp

Technically, this kind of fruit is known as a "schizocarp," a schizocarp being a dry fruit that at maturity splits into sections known as "mericarps." Mericarps can contain one to several seeds. The intact schizocarps of our Uvalde weed-mallow reminds enough people of a sliced wheel of cheese that probably our plant is best known by the names of Cheeseweed and Cheeseweed Mallow. It's MALVA PARVIFLORA, the "parvi" in parviflora meaning "small," pointing to the fact that Cheeseweed's corollas are small compared to those of closely related mallows.

Cheeseweed's leaves don't have much of a flavor but they can be mixed with other greens and cooked in a pot. The ancient Greeks are said to have made a green sauce with Cheeseweed leaves, and used them as a substitute for grape leaves when making the stuffed vegetable dishes called dolmas.

Native to Eurasia and northern Africa, Cheeseweed now invades weedy areas throughout the warmer parts of the world. In the US it's found mostly in the southwestern states, though it turns up here and there in other states.