Photo of the Week – (And a Tongue Twister Too)

Purple Poppy Mallow – – say it 5 times fast! 

Purple poppy mallow, glowing like a light bulb in early morning prairie.

Besides being a favorite tongue twister for my 10-year-old son, purple poppy mallow is a plant of two divergent reputations.  On the one hand, this sprawling plant is seen by many around here as a weed because it grows well in dry sites under heavy grazing.  Its giant taproot (imagine the biggest carrot you’ve ever seen) helps it survive just about anything, including both intensive grazing and at least some kinds of herbicide application.  I have personal experience with the herbicide resistance from some spot treatments with Roundup herbicide several years ago – trying to kill patches of mostly Kentucky bluegrass.  The Roundup killed everything in the plot EXCEPT the poppy mallow.  I assume the big taproot played a large role in that survival.

A second audience, however, sees purple poppy mallow as a beautiful flower, worthy of horticultural selection and distribution.  It is used as ground cover and in flower gardens throughout much of the midwestern U.S. – and probably far beyond.  In this case, the tough sprawling nature of the plant becomes a positive attribute.

Purple poppy mallow, showing both the distinctive flower and leaf.

My own personal opinion is that purple poppy mallow is an important part of our prairies.  In some of the more degraded prairies of Nebraska, it’s one of the few highlights of color during the early summer – and often blooms in abundance.  It also does well in prairies that are in good condition, especially in dry sandy areas. 

We harvest seed from it and enjoy seeing it show up in our prairie restoration plantings.    Like other poppy mallow species, its seeds occur in a round disk that splits into pre-sliced pie pieces when they’re ripe.  When we harvest them, we usually just cut off entire sprawling branches, each with multiple flowers, and throw them in our buckets.  After they dry, it’s easy to separate the seeds from the branches. 

As to its weed status, I’ve never seen it act aggressively.  It’s just tough – something to be admired, really.  Because it can withstand intensive grazing and other kinds of disturbances that many other plant species can’t handle, it often grows in the company of other “weedy” species, and gets lumped into that category by association. 

Yet another photo of purple poppy mallow...

If you’re lucky enough to live where this poppy mallow occurs in native prairies, now is a great time to enjoy its low-growing, but very attractive flowers.  And – as you walk around enjoying its almost glowing magenta flowers, you can also entertain yourself…  

…purple poppy mallow purple poppy mallow purple poppy mallow purpy poppo…..dang!


About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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6 Responses to Photo of the Week – (And a Tongue Twister Too)

  1. You should keep your eyes out for slender, dark-blue buprestid beetles in the flowers – these are Agrilus muticus, which feed as larvae within the enormous taproot. That species doesn’t get as far east as Missouri – I wish it did.

  2. Karen Hamburger says:

    Have you ever eaten the roots? They taste like a mild turnip. That is if you can find one the nemitodes havent ravaged. Then they taste like turnips with a little buggie protein! :^) YUMMIE!!!!!!

  3. Nellie says:

    I am on the side that says, “Beautiful!!” I’m glad I have found your blog and have added it to the list of blogs I “follow.”

  4. James C. Trager says:

    I’m also in the beautiful camp. My camera always seems to make images of the flowers glow even more than naturally.
    Deer browse it — Not cattle?

  5. Pingback: Crab Spider and Poppy Mallow | The Prairie Ecologist

  6. Good abstract of the center of the poppy mallow flower (which we call a winecup in Texas).


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