The Malva Pages:
Malva moschata f. alba

back to Musk Mallows
back to Digital Herbarium
more images
The Malva Pages

flowerMalva moschata L. f. alba
English (International) Musk Mallow
English (British) St. Simeon's Herb
French Mauve musquée
Italian Malva moscata
German Bisam-Malve, Moschus-Malve
Dutch Muskuskaasjeskruid
Swedish desmeros, myskmalva
Danish Moskus-katost
Norwegian Moskuskattost
Finnish Myskimalva
Estonian muskus-kassinaeris
Slovene Muškatni slezenovec
Hungarian Pézsmamályva
Welsh Hocysen Fws
Esperanto Malvo moska

in flowerDistribution: Grown in gardens throughout the temperate regions of the world. For the distribution of the species see Malva moschata (in preparation).

Habitat: Primarily gardens, but might be found in the wild.


The combination of white flowers and finely dissected palmately lobed leaves with pinnatifid lobes distinguishes Malva moschata f. alba from most other mallows. The principal exception are white-flowered forms of Sidalcea (e.g. Sidalcea candida), which have superficially similar foliage. It can be distinguished from these by the presence of an epicalyx, by the flowers being borne on long stalks (not sessile or subsessile), by the flowers being held upright (not horizontal), and by the immature inflorescence being corymbose (not spicate).

To distinguish Malva moschata f. alba from possible white-flowered forms of related species see the identification of Malva moschata (in preparation).

There are forms of Malva moschata which lack the finely dissected leaves. If a white-flowered variant of such a form is encountered it can be distinguished from Malva sylvestris 'Tournai' (syn. 'Alba') by the flowers being borne solitarily in leaf axils or in a terminal raceme (not in fasciculate clusters in the leaf axils); from white forms of Lavatera thuringiaca, Lavatera ×clementii and Lavatera trimestris by the bracteoles being separate (not fused); from white forms of Malope trifida by the bracteoles being lanceolate (not cordate and broadly ovate); from Althaea officinalis 'Alba' by the pink (not purple-red) anthers and glabrous (not densely tomentose) leaf blades; from Althaea ludwigii by the epicalyx being composed of 3 unfused bracteoles (not 8 to 10 fused bracteoles); from Kitaibelia vitifolia by the epicalyx being composed of 3 unfused bracteoles (not 6 or more fused bracteoles) and the flowers being pedicellate (one to a stalk) (not pedunculate); and from Napaea dioica by the presence of an epicalyx and the larger petals (1" long compared to ½"). It can be distinguished from other white-flowered mallows and allies, e.g. Abutilon ×hybridum 'Boule de Neige', e.g. Corynabutilon vitifolium 'Album', by having filiform (not capitate, nor clavate) stigmas.

Technical Description:

Erect multistemmed, sparsely branched, herbaceous perennial to 80 cm, developing side shoots after initial flush of flowers, overwintering as a rosette of radical leaves; stems green, sometimes becoming brown at the base, with a glaucous bloom when young, variously hispid; foliage alternate, stipulate and petiolate; stipules 7 mm long, lanceolate, ciliate; petioles slender, up to 50 mm long, green, pubescent; laminae ciliate, those of radical leaves, 5–7-nerved at the base, shallowly 5-lobed, crenate, ciliate and otherwise glabrous; those of lower cauline leaves orbicular, 5 cm in diameter, deeply palmately divided into 5 doubly pinnatifid lobes, and those of upper cauline leaves divided nearly to the base; inflorescence indeterminate, centripetal, an initially corymbose bracteate raceme; first few bracts indistinguishable from leaves, the remainder stipule-like; flowers hermaphrodite, protandrous, involucellate, pedicellate, scented, borne horizontal to ascending or in the case of the terminal flowers upright; pedicel green, sparsely pubescent with simple hairs, 3 to 4 cm long, articulated, stipule-like intrapedicellar bract sometimes present; bracteoles 3, free, lanceolate, 5 mm long, more than 3 times as long as wide, long-ciliate with simple hairs; calyx reduplicate-valvate in aestivation, sepals 5, green, pubescent, ciliate, 15 mm long, connate for about 1/3rd their length, connivent in fruit; corolla convolute in aestivation, about 5 cm across, nearly flat, petals 5, spirally arranged, ±overlapping, hypogynous, adnate at the base to the staminal column, about 25 mm long, white, with about 9 indistinct veins, claw ciliate, white or pale pink, apex emarginate to erose; staminal column about 10 mm long, white, antheriferous for about 2/3rds its length, filaments white, anthers pink, reniform, unilocular; pollen white; ovary about 15-locular, locules uniovulate, ovules ascending, placentation axile; style branches white, filiform, as many as the locules, stigmas introrsely decurrent; fruit schizocarpous, verticillate, mericarps about 15, single-seeded, smooth, dorsal faces and angles rounded, covered in long hairs, separating when mature from each other and the fruit axis; seed reniform, campylotropous, conformed to the mericarp, which it completely fills; the testa crustaceous, smooth; embryo incurved into an incomplete ring around the scanty soft or mucilaginous albumen, cotyledons broad and foliaceous, somewhat infolded, radicle centripetal-inferior.


Malva moschata L. is a herbaceous perennial, overwintering as a rosette of leaves.

The flowering stems are usually green, but can become brown with age. Young stems have a glaucous bloom. The stems are usually densely covered with erect hairs, but can be only sparsely hairy and nearly smooth.


The leaves are borne alternately (one per node), subtended by two stipules.

The stipules are about ¼" long, and lanceolate in shape. The margin bears a sparse fringe of simple hairs.

The petioles are green and slender. There is a sparse covering of simple hairs, with bulbous bases. The petioles are up to 2" in length.

length of petiole

The basal leaves are suborbicular (about 35mm wide by 25 mm long). They are 5-angled, 5-nerved and cordate at the base, with crenate and ciliate margins. The leaf surfaces are smooth.

basal leaf

The floral leaves are a little larger, and tend towards being as long as wide, or slightly longer than wide. They are deeply and finely dissected into pinnatifid and doubly pinnatifid lobes.

Intermediate leaves can be found at the base of flowering shoots. These show the development of deep sinuses between the 5 sectors of the leaf, and to a lesser degree between the teeth.

The stipules are green, about ¼" long, lanceolate in shape, and with a fringe of ciliate hairs.

floral leaf

The flowers are borne singly in the axils of leaves, or in a dense terminal bracteate raceme. There can be multiple bracts and flowers (not necessarily the same number) at a node.

The immature inflorescence is initiallycorymbose (all the buds at the same height). It then extends vertically, the outer (lower) flowers opening first.

immature inflorescence

They are composed of an epicalyx of 3 bracteoles, a calyx of 5 sepals, a corolla of 5 petals, an androecium and a gynoecium of a single pistil and style, and are about 2" across.


The pedicel is green, is about 1" long, and articulated shortly below the epicalyx. It has a covering of simple hairs.

The bracteoles are three in number. They are green, about 5 mm long, lanceolate in shape (more than 3 times as long as wide), with a ciliate margin bearing long, simple, hairs.

epicalyx and calyx

The sepals are ovate, and fused for approaching half their length.


The petals are white, about 1" long, broadest towards the apex, which is irregular and generally somewhat bilobed. They have about 9 veins, which are not of a constrasting colour to the ground of the petal. The base (claw) of the petal may be white or may be a pale pink.


The stamens are fused into a staminal column. This is white, and about 10 mm long. It bears filaments along the top two-thirds of its length, each white filament being top by a pale pink anther. The pollen grains are white.

The style is white. It is about 1 cm long, and surmounted by about 15 style arms of about the same length. These may be white, pink, or red; in the last two cases the colour is more intense when the style arms first extend beyond the staminal column. The stigmas are filiform, occupying much of the inner surface of the style arms.


The fruit is composed of a whorl of around 15 mericarps (nutlets). When immature it is enclosed by the calyx, which reverts to the form of the bud; as the fruit matures the sepals dry and separate to reveal the mericarps.

immature fruit (upper view)
immature fruit, calyx turned back
immature fruit (under side)
mature fruit

The mericarps are black, smooth, rounded, kidney-shaped, with a dense covering of long white hairs. They sheath, rather than enclose the seed, and are easily separable from the single seed.



Seed may be sown indoors, lightly covered, in mid-spring, for planting out later. Germination is easy and rapid. Sowing in the flowering position may also work, but I don't have experience of this.

I have found that nodal cuttings of the related Malva alcea root readily in late summer. It may be worth trying the same treatment if it is desired to propagate a particular variant of Malva moschata f. alba.

The flowering stems can be cut back after flowering (or seed-collection, if seed is desired), or can be left until the following spring. Dead heading will encourage the formation of side shoots; either individual flowers can be removed, or the whole terminal raceme, when it has finished flowering.

Pests and Diseases

Malva moschata f. alba is susceptible to Hollyhock Rust, Puccinia malvacearum, but not as frequently or severely as Alcea rosea or Malva sylvestris.

Carcharodus alceae


The stems are usually green, but in some plants become brown at the base in age, or develop a brown mottling elsewhere. The intensity and persistence of the glabrous bloom is variable.

The size and density of the stem hairs is variable. Some plants have prominently hairy stems, with a dense covering of erect hairs about 1 mm in length; others have shorter hairs and hence less prominently hairy stems; yet others are sparsely hairy with near glabrous stems.

The claws of the petals can be white or a pale pink. The style arms can be white, pink or red; this variation is not correlated with the variation in the colour of the claws of the petals.

Flowers with 4 petals, rather than the usual 5, are occasionally met with.

Supplementary intrapedicellar bracts are sometimes found.

Cytology: Malva moschata is recorded as having 42 chromosomes.


Malva moschta L. f. alba

Synonyms: for synonymy of the species see Malva moschata (in preparation).

back to Musk Mallows
back to Digital Herbarium
more images
The Malva Pages


photographs © 2003, 2004 Stewart Robert Hinsley

text and HTML © 2004 Stewart Robert Hinsley