Swamp Rose Mallow – for Bees, Butterflies, Beetles, Birds and Beauty

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

The huge, showy blossoms of Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), a member of the Mallow (Malvaceae) family, begin to appear in mid-summer, and continue into early fall.  The flowers are most often pink

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

or white, sometimes with a red throat, inspiring a different common name, Crimsoneyed Rose Mallow.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

But deeper shades of pink and even red are possible.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Insects like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the photo above are enticed to visit Swamp Rose Mallow’s flowers for the nectar accessible through slits at the base of the flower.

In addition to seeking nectar, bees visit to harvest the abundant pollen the flowers offer. Bees eat pollen, and female bees gather it to provision their nests with this nutritious food for their larvae.  The Rose Mallow Bee (Ptilothrix bombiformis) is a specialist forager that only eats the pollen of plants in this genus (Hibiscus) and one other, Morning Glories (Ipomoea).

Bees harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the pollen grains all over their bodies.

Bees harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the pollen grains all over their bodies.

Numerous stamens (the male reproductive parts) form a tube that encircles the pistils (female reproductive parts). Each stamen is topped by an anther that releases pollen.  At the tips of the pistils are the stigmas, the receptive part of the pistil where the pollen must be deposited in order to initiate pollination.  The stigmas extend significantly beyond the stamens, separating them from the flower’s own pollen, thus decreasing the chances that the flower will be self-pollinated.

Bee harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the stigmas to the left of the bee.

Bee harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the stigmas to the left of the bee.

Bees are thought to be the primary pollinators of Swamp Rose Mallow, in spite of the fact that they devour vast quantities of its pollen.  It also seems plausible that large butterflies such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail are effective pollinators of Swamp Rose Mallow. Butterflies visit the flowers purely for nectar; they have no interest in consuming pollen.  Butterflies head for the nectaries, accessed through slits at the throat of the flower.  As the butterflies drink, their bodies brush against the anthers, picking up pollen.  When the butterfly moves on to a different flower, some of that pollen may adhere to the stigmas of the new flower, triggering pollination.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly's wings and body brush against the anthers, picking up pollen.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly’s wings and body brush against the anthers, picking up pollen.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly's wings and body brush against the flower's stigmas, depositing pollen, then against the anthers, picking up pollen.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly’s wings and body brush against the flower’s stigmas, depositing pollen, then against the anthers, picking up pollen.

There isn’t much waste in nature.  Bees even scavenge pollen that has fallen onto the flower petals.  Beetles join the bees at this pollen feast.  Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci) are primarily interested in eating the seeds of Swamp Rose Mallow and other related species, but while they wait for the seeds to become available, they also consume pollen.  As an additional benefit, cruising the flowers is an effective way for the beetles to hook up with members of the opposite sex!

Bee and Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci) scavenging for pollen that has fallen onto the petals of a Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) flower.

Bee and Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci) scavenging for pollen that has fallen onto the petals of a Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) flower.

Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci)

Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci)

Swamp Rose Mallow benefits butterflies in other ways.  It is a potential food plant for the caterpillars of several butterflies, including the Gray Hairstreak, Common Checkered-skipper, and Painted Lady.

Gray Hairstreak on goldenrod. The caterpillars of the Gray Hairstreak butterfly eat the foliage of members of the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, as well as some other plants.

Gray Hairstreak on goldenrod. The caterpillars of the Gray Hairstreak butterfly eat the foliage of members of the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, as well as some other plants.

Common Checkered-skipper on aster. The caterpillars of the Common Checkered-skipper butterfly have evolved to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) family.

Common Checkered-skipper on aster. The caterpillars of the Common Checkered-skipper butterfly have evolved to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) family.

Painted Lady on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). The Painted Lady is the most widespread butterfly in the world. It is a generalist, with its caterpillars able to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, along with thistles, sunflowers and many other plants.

Painted Lady on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). The Painted Lady is the most widespread butterfly in the world. It is a generalist, with its caterpillars able to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, along with thistles, sunflowers and many other plants.

Birds also benefit from the presence of Swamp Rose Mallow. Red-winged Blackbirds may use it as a nesting site.

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Swamp Rose Mallow’s seeds are a fall and winter source of food for birds,

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) fruit capsules open to release their seeds.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) fruit capsules open to release their seeds.

including Northern Pintails, Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal.

Northern Pintails with Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in winter

Northern Pintails with Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in winter

Wood Duck pair in non-breeding plumage. (Female left, male right.)

Wood Duck pair in non-breeding plumage. (Female left, male right.)

Blue-winged Teals

Blue-winged Teals

Swamp Rose Mallow is native from Ontario, New York and Massachusetts in the north, south to the southeastern and south central United States. It can grow to a height of about 6.5 feet (2 meters).  Swamp Rose Mallow’s natural habitats are primarily wetlands, including swamps, marshes

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) at the Abbott Marshlands, Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) at the Abbott Marshlands, Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey

and wet meadows.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in the meadow at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, New Hope, PA

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in the meadow at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, New Hope, PA

Resources

Cech, Rick; Tudor, Guy. Butterflies of the East Coast.  2005.

Rhoads, Ann Fowler; Block, Timothy A. The Plants of Pennsylvania.  2007

Willmer, Pat. Pollination and Floral Ecology. 2011

Illinois Wildflowers

Shimamura, Ryouji; Kachi, Naoki; Kudoh, Hiroshi; Whigham, Dennis F. Visitation of a specialist pollen feeder Althaeus hibisci Olivier (Coleoptera: Bruchidae) to flowers of Hibiscus moscheutos L. (Malvaceae). 2004.

USDA NRCS Plant Database

U.S. Forest Service Database

Klips, Robert A.; Sweeney, Patricia M.; Bauman, Elisabeth K. F.; Snow, Allison A. Temporal and Geographic Variation in Predispersal Seed Predation on Hibiscus moscheutos L. (Malvaceae) in Ohio and Maryland, USA. 2005.

 

 

14 thoughts on “Swamp Rose Mallow – for Bees, Butterflies, Beetles, Birds and Beauty

  1. thank you, Mary Anne. I have been noticing these mallows since you pointed them out to our group at the Wildflower preserve. Most recently I have enjoyed their profuse blooming in Pennypack Park and in the Hirschorn Garden in DC. It must be time to add to my native garden in Levittown. The pollen shots are just amazing!!!!! One million sparks of gratitude your way for my continuing education. Yours in the Amazing Outdoors, Patricia Merkel

  2. Pingback: Hibiscus moscheutos – Hello Creatives Times

  3. Mary Anne, I just found The Natural Web last night…I’m blown away by the photographs and deep knowledge, but knowledge presented in such a away that non-scientists like me can understand! I love to spread the word about the importance of incorporating as many natives in our gardens as possible. However in our very imperfect nursery world, native species can be very hard to find. And sometimes cultivars/nativars can do the job but sometimes they can’t’. In the case of these beauties there are cultivars of the species and I have some friends who have huge swamp rose mallows that look much more spectacular than those seen in the wild. I’m planning on planting these this spring. My question, and one that I hope you can address(and maybe you do,as I said I just found you last night) is in the case of our native mallow is a cultivar effective for all the feeders you mentioned above?( keeping in mind things like purchase local, no bred for sterile, no double flowers).

    • Thanks for the kind words, Vernah! There’s a lot we don’t know yet about the value of cultivars in comparison to straight species. Doug Tallamy and others from the University of Delaware have teamed up with the Mt Cuba Center to do some research in this area. So far, it appears that as far as value for pollinators, it depends on the individual cultivar. In terms of insects that eat plants, the color of the plant part consumed is likely to make a big difference, since color reflects the chemical make-up of the plant tissues. I haven’t seen any research specifically about Swamp Rose Mallow cultivars. You could try them and let me know who you observe visiting them! Here is a link to some of the results of the research done at Mt Cuba: http://mtcubacenter.org/research/trial-garden/. I hope this helps a little.

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s