The Malva (Mallow) Pages:
Contents and Overview

Malvaceae Info (home)

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  • Index: go here to look up a particular species, common name, variety, form or cultivar (in preparation)
  • Introduction
  • Classification
  • Propagation
  • Cytology
  • References
  • Photographs (Links)
  • Synonymy of the Genus Malva
  • Malva section Malva Gallery (photos)
  • Malva section Bismalva Gallery (photos)
  • "Malva" 'Park Allee' gallery (photos)

  • Introduction

    Malva is a genus within the family Malvaceae, which also includes, inter alia, Althaea, Abutilon, Gossypium, Hibiscus, Lavatera and Sidalcea, and is particularly close to Lavatera. The ~15 species of Malva have a broad Palaeoarctic distribution, centered on the Mediterranean and temperate Europe, and extending to China and northern India. Many species are widely naturalised elsewhere in the world.

    Malvas are annual, biennial or short-lived perennial herbs. The flowers are pink to purple to bluish, or white. The stems and foliage are typically downy or hairy. The fruits consist of a divided capsule containing a ring of nutlets.

    Many species of Malva are of horticultural merit.

    The plants sold as Malva 'Park Allee', 'Parkfrieden' and 'Parkrondell' ('Park Rondel') are probably correctly assigned to Alcea or Althaea, but are covered here as they are normally sold as Malva.


    Malva is a genus of the sub-family Malvoideae, tribe Malveae and sub-tribe Malvinae of the family Malvaceae. It is particularly close to the Tree Mallows, Lavatera. The traditional diagnostic character distinguishing Malva from Lavatera is that the epicalyx segments (the leaf-like structures beneath the flowers/fruit) are free at the base. However there are at least 2 species of Lavatera (Ll. cretica and mauritanica) which show the general form of Lavatera which have the epicalyx segments nearly free, and one variety of L. triloba has the epicalyx segments wholly free. Because of this and other observations it has long been suspected that this diagnostic character is not a good character for distinguishing between the two genera. However no alternative classification of Lavatera and Malva has commanded general acceptance, and the traditional division continues in use. For more details see my discussion of the classification of the Malva alliance.

    The Malva Pages covers species traditionally assigned to Malva, as species of Malva, as that is consistent with current horticultural practice, even though this may not be the correct placement for these species. These species are placed in two sections; section Malva includes those species which bear flowers in clusters in the leaf axils, and section Bismalva those species which bear flowers solitarily in the leaf axils, or in congested terminal clusters.

    A 1998 paper4 by M.F. Ray transfers several species of Lavatera to Malva. The Californian Lavateras, the Australian Hollyhock and the Tree Mallows fall into section Malva, and section Axolopha is transferred as a unit. More recent work suggests that the 3 annual marshmallows should also be transferred to Malva.

    Many genera with the common condition of an floral involucel of 3 free bracteoles and schizocarpous fruits were originally placed in Malva. Consequently several hundred binominal names have been assigned to Malva, but the vast majority are no longer accepted, and there are around 15 accepted species.

    Malva is a ancient Latin name, thought to derive from the Greek malache, meaning soft, referring to the emollient properties of the plants.


    Propagation is normally by seed.


    Malva alcea is an dodecaploid with a chromosome count of 84. There are counts of both 42, 84 and 112 for members of the Malva verticillata complex. MM. aegyptia, borealis, cretica, moschata, neglecta, parviflora, pusilla, rotundifolia, sylvestris and tournefortiana are ancient hexaploids with chromosome counts of 42. There is an anomalous chromosome count of 24 for Malva hispanica; perhaps this is a transposition error for 42.


    (in preparation)

    Images from Google image search


    1. The RHS Plant Finder various editions
    2. Clive Stace - New Flora of the British Isles (1991)
    3. Flora Europaea Vol. 2
    4. M.F. Ray, New Combinations in Malva, in Novon 8:288-295 (1998)
    5. Baker, Synopsis of Genera and Species of Malveæ, in Journal of Botany Vol. XXVIII (1890)
    6. International Plant Names Index
    7. INRA (Synonymy of the French Flora)


    If you have found any errors on this page, or have any further information about the genus Malva then please contact me at

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    © 2003, 2004 Stewart Robert Hinsley