a-plant-a-day-4

Apricot mallow: Sphaeralcea ambigua ssp. ambigua, Malvaceae (mallow family)

This is one of my favorite plants out here, but I've always been a little intimidated by the proliferation of the mallow family, and never went so far as to nail down the precise subspecies. Until today! I decided to get nitty gritty and take out the Jepson manual. (Rather, go to the Jepson eFlora online database, which is a really awesome resource that can help determine a subspecies by inspecting very particular parts of the plant, primarily using descriptive language, but also with some illustrations and photographs, ) In this case, I knew this was apricot mallow, one of the globemallows, but which one? By taking apart a flower head and looking at the minute filaments, I could tell it was the subspecies ambigua, not rugosa, because the anthers and filaments have a purplish hue to them, and are not glabrous—as the rugosa filament tube—which means not hairy. I had to look up a lot of names, like abaxially (underside of a leaf), and refer to charts to be reminded of what a panicle flower formation looks like. But now I know, for no real necessary end result, it's sphaeralcea ambigua var. ambigua. 

This was my first true foray into technical identification. I went to art school, not science school. In undergrad, I took ballet and PE classes to bulk up my academic credits. I don't know much about these things, but I know how to look at things. And damn the eyes, because those leaves are awfully wrinkled, as the namesake "rugosa" indicates. So.the plant remains semi-ambiguous....

PS--This plant, subspecies included, is medicinal! As the family name indicates, the plant has a mucilaginous quality, and can be used to treat dry, irritating respiratory conditions, and has emollient properties when used as a skin poultice. Ironically, the plant is covered in microscopic hairs that can be irritating to the skin, throat, and eyes, giving it the nickname "sore-eye poppy."