Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Turk’s cap flower

with 33 comments

Turk's Cap Flower 7938

Here’s a flower of Malvaviscus arboreus, known as Turk’s cap and Texas mallow, that I photographed in Great Hills Park on July 18th. The plant was in a heavily shaded place in the woods—its familiar habitat—so I had to use flash. Don’t the clumps of pollen remind you of caviar?


UPDATE: If you check out yesterday’s post showing a feather, at the end of it you’ll see I’ve added suggestions about the identity of the bird that shed the feather.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2014 at 6:00 AM

33 Responses

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  1. Beautiful!


    August 24, 2014 at 6:31 AM

  2. Very rich colors.

    Jim in IA

    August 24, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    • Yes, a turk’s cap flower is almost always a saturated red, and its exserted column really stands out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 8:23 AM

  3. Caviar and the rest. The moment I saw this I wanted to eat it. Now I know why….http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/turks-cap.html


    August 24, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    • Good of you to have provided that link. A few years ago, after I read that turk’s cap flowers and fruit are edible, I went out and tried both. Edible they may be, but not particularly tasty, at least not when eaten raw. I’ve never tried them cooked or turned into preserves, nor have I tried making a tea from the plant. Maybe someday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 8:36 AM

      • I am very partial to hibiscus tea so I was imagining turk’s cap tea would be somewhat the same.


        August 24, 2014 at 8:52 AM

        • I suspect you’re right, given that turk’s cap and the various species of hibiscus are all in the mallow family.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 24, 2014 at 8:55 AM

  4. Amazing photography!

    kathy henderson

    August 24, 2014 at 9:27 AM

  5. Although all hibisucs flowers can be used for tea, this one is especially respected in Central America for its medicinal use. It makes a deep reddish-purple tea that lacks the thicker ‘okra-like’ substance that the regular hibiscus flowers produce.

    • I had no idea that this species reaches down through Mexico, Central America, and even into South America (according to what I just read online). Thanks for letting us know about its medicinal use and the non-mucilaginous tea people make from it in Central America. That’s especially curious, because the -viscus in the species name means ‘viscous, mucilaginous.’

      I see from an online article that two Spanish names for this plant are malvavisco and falso hibisco. What Spanish name do you know it by in Costa Rica?

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      • ja. you prompted me to make a quick dash to the bookshelf where i retrieved Arvigo’s Rainforest Remedies (Healing herbs of belize) and Ed Bernhardt’s Medicinal Plants of CR.

        Arvigo lists hibiscus rosa-sinensis, which she says is called ‘Tulipan’ in Spanish and Kak-chi-at’tsum in Kekchi Maya.

        This hibiscus is called ‘Amapola” in the Guanacaste area of CR, but Amapola is often the name for the beautiful -but dangerous Angel’s Trumpet. It is often called, ‘Flor de Jamaica” or “flor de China.”

        Bernhardt shares the Amapola’ name as well as Hibiscus spp. he states, ‘…in Belize, some people believe that only the red flowering hibiscus, H.rosa-sinensis, has medicinal properties. Cost Ricans’, however, categorize both that species and H. sabdariffa as medicinal plants.’

        He also notes that settlers from the Caribbean Basin introduced Hibiscus sabdarifffa, called Jamaican hibiscus or roselle, to CR…

        I often make hibiscus tea straight from the flowers, and it has much more body than bought/dried commercial teas. I sometimes make gumbo, substituting the flowers during the final minutes, and the flowers make delicious salad – a lettuce substitute that is probably packed with many more nutrients!

        • It seems that the common names are quite a jumble. I always thought amapola was a poppy, but from what you say it can be an angel’s trumpet as well as a turk’s cap in Costa Rica. You’ve reminded me that during my two years in Central America I occasionally drank té de flor de Jamaica, which was made from some sort of hibiscus, but I don’t know what species.

          In looking online I see that Hibiscus sabdariffa, despite being called Jamaican hibiscus (though its route to the Americas may have taken it through Jamaica), comes from Africa. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is the ‘Chinese rose.’ It sounds as if the imported species are better known and more used than the native Malvaviscus arboreus.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 24, 2014 at 11:37 AM

      • ps.. all of the varieties are mucilaginous, but the stiffer-flowered turks cap has tougher petals and cannot be coaxed into as many uses as the others.. oh my.. i just retrieved a third book, tropical plants of CR (Willow Zuchowski) and it shows so many options, i should start over! The turks cap is yes, malvaviscus penduliflorus,… turk’s cap in costa rica is an entirely-different plant, and i will try to lob an image of that one… another favorite hibiscus of mine is hibiscus schizopetalus, and it truly does look a bit schizo and comes from east africa. there is also a ‘wild’ yellow flowered on that grows near the ocean called beach hibiscus. it can grow up to 10 meters and stretches from mexico to ecuador.

      • (oh no, here she comes again…) debbie on isla ometepe in nicaragua, has a great post with amazing photos and trivia.


  6. The flash certainly allows the flower to stand out from the background and the rich color is sumptuous.

    Steve Gingold

    August 24, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    • Fortunately the shaded plants in the background were far enough away that the light from the flash illuminated the subject but then fell off quickly and didn’t brighten the background. One good thing about turk’s caps is that their flowers are almost always a saturated red that draws attention to them in almost any photograph, and usually no flash is needed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 1:12 PM

  7. Gorgeous photo, I love the detail and the lush color. The photo is really impressive.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    August 24, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    • Thanks. Charlie. These flowers are plentiful around Austin naturally, and even more so since landscapers have favored them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 3:00 PM

  8. Wow, the intensity of the coloration is amazing! Love all the tiny details which you make visible for our eyes, a whole world of wonder enclosed in such a small package! Just wonderful!


    August 24, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    • These are relatively small flowers—everything you see here was maybe an inch and a half tall—but a macro lens does wonders in bringing out the details. It is a world of wonder, with a richly saturated red.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 9:51 PM

  9. sensual


    August 24, 2014 at 9:39 PM

  10. I have a friend whose preference in lipstick is for a clear, rich red. Her husband isn’t so fond of her choice, and often teases her by telling her “that color doesn’t even exist in nature.” Yes, it does. You’ve photographed it and shown it here, and I’ve already sent a link to the photo it to her, so she can use it in her defense the next time the subject comes up.


    August 25, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    • If you hear back from your friend, please let us know what happened. Now you should see if you can induce a cosmetics company to create a vibrant red lipstick in the shape of a turk’s cap flower. Who knows, maybe a novelty like that would catch on. There could even be a whole line of lipsticks based on different wildflower shapes and colors.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 25, 2014 at 8:11 AM

  11. Very nice, subtle flash work, Steve. Did you use the on-camera flash or an external one? Also, do you carry a diffuser and/or reflector?


    August 25, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    • Unfortunately Canon has kept refusing to put a flash in its 5D models (I have the Mark III), so I have to lug an external flash around with me. I’ve never used any kind of diffuser or deflector, although I recognize that they can be helpful.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 25, 2014 at 9:11 PM

  12. Another brilliant and beautiful macro photo – you are a master in this field 😉


    August 28, 2014 at 5:35 PM

  13. […] that turned out to be one when she went out to investigate. Turk’s cap flowers normally stay closed like a pinwheel, so why this one had come apart so much remains a […]

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