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Plant Fibers, Fruits and Greens
© W.P. Armstrong 5 March 2010
More Photos Of Plants With Bast Fibers
[Polynesian Beach Hibiscus-Sorrel-Roselle-Kenaf-Hoop Vine]
***All Images & Illustrations Copyright Protected***

Mallow Family (Malvaceae): Beach Hibiscus

Flowers of beach hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus), a common shrub along tropical Pacific beaches. The beautiful yellow blossoms turn pinkish-red with age. Bast fibers in the bark are used for cordage, mats and "grass" skirts (see next photo).

The bark of beach hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus), a common shrub along tropical Pacific beaches, contains strong bast fibers. Strips of bark are woven into cordage and mats, and make excellent "grass" skirts.

Mallow Family (Malvaceae): Sorrel

Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a common roadside plant on the island of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles. In Southeast Asia, bast fibers from the bark are used for roselle, a fiber similar to kenaf from the closely related Hibiscus cannabinus. On Dominica (and other Caribbean islands) the enlarged, fleshy red sepals that envelop the seed capsule are used to make a popular drink at Christmas time (see next photo).

Red sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) at the marketplace in Roseau, Dominica. The enlarged, fleshy red sepals that envelop the seed capsule are used to make a popular drink at Christmas time.

Mallow Family (Malvaceae): Kenaf

Kenaf paper made from the stem fibers of Hibiscus cannabinus, a species very similar to sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa). The use of fast-growing fiber plants such as kenaf for paper could reduce the world's dependence on wood pulp from forest trees. This fine quality paper is acid free using the sulfate pulping process.

Mallow Family (Malvaceae): Okra

Okra (Hibiscus esculentus syn. Abelmoschus esculentus). This delicious vegetable has a typical hibiscus flower. The cooked ripened ovary is eaten as a vegetable, but is technically a botanical fruit.

Malva pseudolavatera, M. parviflora & M. nicaeensis

  An Unusual Malva Species In San Marcos  
Note: According to Christopher Davis (personal communication November 2010 & March 2013), the plants I originally called Malva sylvestris are actually Malva pseudolavatera. The unusual decumbent Malva at the above link is also a morphological variant of M. pseudolavatera.

High mallow (Malva pseudolavatera), a widespread herbaceous annual or biennial native to southern Europe. It is taller and has much larger flowers than cheeseweed (M. parviflora), a common naturized weed throughout southern California. In addition, the prominent, heart-shaped cotyledons are larger than M. parviflora. The tender young leaves are eaten in salads and cooked like spinach. The purple flowers yield a natural coloring for drinks and herbal teas. Like cheeseweed, the fruit is composed of many indehiscent, seed-bearing sections resembling a miniature wheel of cheese.

Sprouting seedling of Malva pseudolavatera after a soaking rain. Note the tiny heart-shaped cotyledons.

Wild (naturalized) Malva pseudolavatera in Twin Oaks Valley, San Diego County. The flower is over 40 mm across.

Wild (naturalized) Malva pseudolavatera from Vista, California.

Malva parviflora (Often Referred to as "Cheeseweed")

Close-up view of Malva parviflora in Twin Oaks Valley. The flower is 6 mm across.

Size comparison between Malva pseudolavatera and M. parviflora. The penny is 19 mm in diameter.

  Size Of Penny Used In Wayne's Word Images  

Malva nicaeensis

Bull mallow (Malva nicaeensis), another naturalized mallow in San Diego County. The flower is about 15 mm (0.5 in) across, roughly intermediate in size between M. parviflora and M. pseudolavatera. This species is also eaten in Europe, both as a fresh salad green and cooked.

Bull mallow (Malva nicaeensis). Although it resembles M. pseudolavatera in color, the flower is only 12 mm in diameter.

More Images Of Malva parviflora

Close-up view of the schizocarp fruit of cheeseweed (Malva parviflora). The wheel-shaped fruit splits into ten wedge-shaped, indehiscent, one-seeded sections (carpels). The red arrow points to an individual section (carpel). Since all the carpels came from a single compartmented gynoecium (compound pistil), the gynoecium is refered to as syncarpous. In this case the carpels are attached in a ring to a conical central axis, and separate from each other at maturity when they dry out.

The schizocarp fruits of cheeseweed, another member of the mallow family (Malvaceae). This common and prolific naturalized weed appears during the spring in southern California. Each wheel-shaped fruit splits into a number of wedge-shaped, indehiscent, one-seeded sections called mericarps. The common name cheeseweed is derived from the shape of the fruit that supposedly resembles a wheel of cheese (with some imagination).

Malva parviflora showing prolific production of schizocarp fruits.

Field of Malva parviflora in Twin Oaks Valley during the wet spring of 2010.

Cooked Leaves Of Malva parviflora

The following is one recipe for stir-fried Malva parviflora greens. Gather a pot of fresh, clean leaves with most of the petioles removed. Place a mass of leaves on a cutting board and cut into several sections. Coat a large frying pan with olive oil. Place leaves, chopped garlic and 1/2 cup of water in a large frying pan and cover. Stir-fry on low heat until the leaves have cooked down into a soft, spinach-like mass. Remove cover and stir often during the cooking process. Serve and season to taste. You may also add onions, peppers and tofu.

Leaves of Malva parviflora ready to slice and stir fry.

Traditional Syrian Recipe For Cooked Stems Of Malva parviflora


Khobbayzeh is the Arabic word for the plant, Malva parviflora, which grows in Syria. The prepared dish is also called Khobbayzeh. Tender stems and a small amount of the leaf blades are chopped and blanched for about 5 minutes, then drained and cooled. Garlic and onions are caramelized in olive oil. Oil from the caramelized garlic and onion mixture is drained into the cooled mixture then tossed to distribute the oil. More oil is added if desired. The garlic and onion mixture is placed on top as in the photo (left). It is served at room temperature with lemon juice squeezed on top. Eaten with pita bread. Recipe & preparation of Khobbayzeh courtesy of Elie Abushanab; Photo by Steve Disparti (April 2018).

A pictorial article in the New York times by Ben Hubbard & Bilal Shbair (7 April 2024) discusses starving Palastinians in Gaza harvesting Malva parviflora for food during Israeli military campaign (bombing) to destroy Hamas.

Mallow Family (Malvaceae): Malva sylvestris

Malva sylvestris grown from seed. The flowers are similar to M. pseudolavatera, but are generally larger and in more showy, dense clusters. Naturalized populations identified as this species in San Diego County are actually M. pseudolavatera.

  A Rust Fungus That Attacks Malva & Lavatera  

Malva neglecta From Jerome & Prescott, Arizona

The growth form of Malva neglecta is generally low-growing (spreading), unlike the erect M. parviflora and M. pseudolavatera. Mericarps are finely pubescent and smooth on the back, without distinct pits or net-veins as in M. nicaeensis. The mericarps separate from each other at maturity, unlike M. nicaeensis. Calyx lobes generally do not enclose the mature schizocarp. Epicalyx bractlets are narrow-linear, free from each other and the calyx (unlike M. pseudolavatera). Flowers are white to pale pink with pale veins, roughly intermediate in size between M. nicaeensis and Malva X.

Malva subovata (syn. Lavatera maritima) Unknown In My Plant ID Class

Unknown #46 Compared With Malva (Lavatera) assurgentiflora

View of leaves and upper side of flower.

View of lower side of flower.

Note: This shrub is a cultivated ornamental commonly planted in southern California. It does not match the species choices in the Jepson Manual. Although it is closely related to the native California species L. assurrgentiflora, it appears to be the Mediterranean species L. maritima listed in the Sunset Western Garden Book. This is probably the cultivated hybrid 'bicolor.' The name is often listed as Lavatera aff maritima 'Bicolor.' The abbreviation aff means that this cultivated hybrid has an affinity with the species L. maritima. For the name of this unknown, use maritima for the specific epithet and Gouan for the author. The family, genus and common name can be obtained from your Jepson Manual.

Malva assurgentiflora (Island Mallow or Malva Rosa) native to the California Channel Islands. This species greatly resembles Malva subovata (syn. Lavatera maritima). It is commonly cultivated and misidentified as the latter cultivated species.

Pokeweed Family (Phytolaccaceae): Hoop Vine

Hoop vine (Trichostigma octandrum) in the tropical forest on the island of St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands). This interesting vine belongs to the Phytolacca Family (Phytolaccaceae) along with pokeweed (P. americana) and the ombu tree (P. dioica) of the Argentine pampas. Bast fibers in the bark are used for basketry (see next photo).

The art of basket-making on the island of St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands). Strips of bark from the hoop vine (Trichostigma octandrum) contain strong, pliable bast fibers that are woven into attractive baskets. [Photo by Harriett Feeney]

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