Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
One of North Dakota's most characteristic prairie wildflowers, red false mallow or "globe mallow" occurs in all but several of the most low-lying counties in the Red River Valley. The species is found throughout the Great Plains.
Plants are about 4-8 inches tall, and perennial from heavy branching roots. The hairy gray-green leaves are highly dissected and rough to the touch. Under magnification the leaves look like cacti because each stiff hair has five radiating branches. The striking red-orange flowers are saucer-shaped and large for the overall size of the plant.
Look for red false mallow on poor dry soils that are heavily or moderately grazed. Members of the Blackfoot tribe chewed the plant and applied the paste to burns and sores. The plant is seldom eaten by livestock but is said to be excellent forage for deer.
Red false mallow is a member of the worldwide Mallow family (Malvaceae). This family also numbers among its 1,200 species okra, cotton, and ornamentals such as hibiscus. The genus Sphaeralcea, the name derived from the Greek sphaira, "a sphere," and alkea, "mallow," contains about 40 species found mostly in western North America. The specific epithet coccinea means "scarlet" in botanical Latin. The species was described by the eminent German botanist Frederick Pursh in the early 1800's. Pursh was the first to publish upon the many plant specimens collected by Lewis and Clark during their famous Expedition of 1804-1806.