2018-07-20 / Home & Garden

Zebrina

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

There she stood …upright and tall beside my walking path on campus. She was dressed in a soft-mauve purple striped two inch pinwheel flowered frock. Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’, is a Mallow family member native to Europe where she is known as the French mallow, French hollyhock, or Zebra mallow.

The common name Zebrina is derived from the feminine form of the Latin word “zebra” meaning striped. Another common name, cheese mallow, refers to the disc-shaped seedpods, which resemble miniature cheese wheels. Close kin include hollyhock, hibiscus, marshmallow, and rose of Sharon.

When Thomas Jefferson conducted his transatlantic seed and plant exchange as president and private citizen, his botanical diplomacy with France and England brought many new species to America. In 1806, his plant journals record growing Malva sylvestris at Monticello. Progeny of those plants still grow there today and their gift shop sells the heirloom seed.


Seed is the easiest method of propagation. Seed is the easiest method of propagation. The two to four foot tall plant prefers full sun and well-drained soil. The drought tolerant perennial blooms from late spring to frost in Columbia and can be seen cloaked in butterflies and visited by hawk moths, bees, and hummingbirds. Painted lady and American lady butterfly larvae rely on the leaves to complete their life cycle. Caterpillars of these butterflies sew hollyhock host leaf nests as protection from predators. Deer and rabbits don’t nibble on this mallow.

Zebrina is an old-fashioned cottage garden plant found in the company of larkspur, cleome, sweet peas, yarrow, daisies, and roses. She stands out in borders along white picket fences and lattice and around gazebos. The towering form and vertical color is a classic focal point when used as a solo or a living screen. Botanic gardens across the U.S. showcase her charisma with en masse displays. For dramatic contrasting color and form in a container, pair upright Zebrina with chartreuse sweet potato vine. Cut flowers are long lasting in bouquets.


Hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, and bees are attracted to the perennial. Hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, and bees are attracted to the perennial. This mallow is highly tolerant of urban pollution and thrives in inner city environments. The colorful flower spikes weave in between established plantings.

In Europe, the mallow grows freely as a wildflower in hedgerows, meadows and fallow farm fields.

Zebrina gives perennial like performance by reseeding. Seed is the main and easiest form of propagation. Gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 5-9 purchase mail-order seed for spring germination (seven-21 days).

While on a day-today basis Zebrina adds beauty in the garden, Malva sylvestris has a long history of use in indigenous medicine. In the contemporary laboratory scientists are studying its phytochemicals for medicinal uses as well, specifically, antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory ingredients, and antiseptic assets.


Thomas Jefferson’s plant diplomacy may have introduced the French Mallow to American gardens. Thomas Jefferson’s plant diplomacy may have introduced the French Mallow to American gardens. You won’t be disappointed by the showy profusion of color from this durable dependable cottage garden gem.



Zebrina is a favorite for cottage and campus gardens. Zebrina is a favorite for cottage and campus gardens.

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