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Monday, July 18, 2011

Prairie Spotlight: Cowboys' Delight

While not yet flowering in the Berry Prairie, Cowboys' Delight is a spectacular species  currently in bloom in the Laramie basin.  Here is a preview of what's to come once the species is established on the green roof and flowering.

Sphaeralcea coccinea, also known as Cowboys' Delight or Scarlet Globemallow, in bloom southwest of Laramie near the Colorado border.  Sulfur Flower (yellow) and Purple Locoweed mingle with S. coccinea to create a colorful palette.
Photo by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center
 
Sphaeralcea coccinea is a delight to behold when in bloom, especially during the harshest and driest years. This salmon- or cantaloupe-colored flower is common along roadsides and ditches, where it endures, perhaps even prefers, withering heat and scathing drought. Also called Scarlet Globemallow or Cowboys’ Delight, this western native is a relative of the tropical hibiscus and the garden hollyhock. All are members of the Malvaceae, or mallow family, that can be recognized, in part, by the monadelphous (fused into a cylinder) stamens that protrude from the flower. The 5- or 10-part stigma, in turn, protrudes from the stamen tube. Members of the Malvaceae also have pretty, stellate hairs on their leaves, which can be seen with a good magnifying glass.

Left: Sphaeralcea coccinea in bloom in the Laramie basin.  Right: Sphaeralcea coccinea planted in the green roof.
Photo by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center


Another member of the mallow family that grows in the Laramie Basin (but not yet in the Berry Prairie) is Sidalcea neomexicana, commonly called Salt Spring Checkerbloom. As you might guess, it grows in alkali flats and other salty places, reaching two feet or so in height. Probably the best known member of the family is Alcea rosea, the garden hollyhock, not native here, but found in Laramie Basin gardens. Originally from China, hollyhock was transported to Europe in the sixteenth century, and from there to North America.  Note the similarity of the genus names—alcea is derived from the Greek word for mallow.

Sidalcea neomexicana, commonly called salt spring checkerbloom, is native to the Laramie basin.

By the way, there is a species of Hibiscus that grows in Wyoming, H. trionum. It really does look like a small tropical hibiscus, but pretty though it is—don’t plant it in your garden! It has become naturalized in much of the west since its introduction from the Mediterranean, and is now considered to be an invasive weed.


Because of its tough character, we expect Sidalcea coccinea to thrive in the Berry Prairie, delighting all of the visiting cowboys for many years to come. If you can’t visit our prairie, look for scarlet globemallow along roadsides in much of the American west.

 Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Associate Director of the Berry Center


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