History Of The Hollyhock Plant

By Liz Baessler | June 15, 2017
Image by ffaber53
by Liz Baessler
June 15, 2017

Do you want your flower garden to have a touch of overgrown, country charm? Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) are a fantastic choice. They’re big, they’re bright, they’re easy to care for, and they’re a staple of the English “cottage garden,” the slightly wild, slightly zany response to the severely regimented English gardens of the 19th century.

History of the Hollyhock Plant

Hollyhock plant history is long and well traveled. The plants are thought to be originally native to East Asia, where they have roots in ancient Japanese culture. Over the years, they spread across Asia, making their way to the Middle East, where the English first encountered them during the Crusades.

The plants were used to make a salve that was very good for the Crusaders’ horses which were injured on their hind legs, or “hocks.” This is almost definitely where the name comes from – holly, as in holy (as in Holy Land) and hock, as in the part of the horse the plant was used to treat. – The more you know!

Hollyhocks are part of the Mallow family, a strange and disjointed branch of the plant world that contains okra, cotton, hibiscus, and marsh mallow, the granddaddy of today’s campfire dessert.

Growing Hollyhocks in Your Garden

Part of the reason old-fashioned hollyhocks have spread so far around the world is that they’re very adaptable and forgiving plants to grow. Different varieties of the plant exist in virtually every color and are happy to grow in soils from clay to sand, acid to alkaline. They prefer sun, but they can take some shade. Basically, if you have soil, you can grow hollyhocks.

They can grow as tall as 10 feet, putting up huge spikes of colorful flowers. So why not try growing hollyhocks? You’ll give your garden a touch of wild color, and you’ll become part of its rich tradition of travelling around the world.

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  • Joyce M Lindsay
    Comment added July 31, 2021Reply

    To:
    Liz Baessler | June 15, 2017

    I am writing a story and I would like to use your paragraph on the history of the holyhocks. May I have your permission. There is not plan at this time to publish my story, but one never knows.

  • Barney McClure
    Comment added June 27, 2020Reply

    Our Hollyhock plant just crossed twelve feet in height and still has buds for flowering. We couldn't find anything online to indicate if this is an unusual height or not.

  • Helen Hales
    Comment added November 8, 2019Reply

    I have been growing Hollyhocks for the last 4 years, my lovely next door
    neighbor started me off, she threw some seeds over and close to my back fence. They grow sometimes tall and very tall, at the moment I have two about 9ft tall with beautiful pink flowers, the rest are white, ruby red,
    I have a lot more growing, but only about 3 feet, if they do flower most likely be white. I love them.

  • Gail
    Comment added June 4, 2019Reply

    I love my Hollyhocks and enjoyed learning of their history. I have a question? The 1st 2 years regrowing them from seed outside. I had very dark maroon to light pink . This year I only have pink . Is there something to add to the soil to get the different colors? Thanks for any help in this .

  • linda pullen
    Comment added March 25, 2019Reply

    Thank you for such a brilliant article on the rust that attacks hollyhocks, I will be going to the garden centre first thing tomorrow morning for the fungicides I need, I only have two because I was unsure what they looked like, and last year one of them grew to 6ft, I used to call it "jack" and the other one "bean"lol. I did not know about the use of hollyhocks to repair horses hocks, and obviously where the name came from, it is so interesting, I also have a packet of seeds of all different colours and I am looking forward to planting these and watching them grow.
    Thank you once again for your help and interesting information that will hopefully save jack and bean xx

  • Ann Marie Mones
    Comment added June 16, 2017Reply

    I had no idea that is where the name came from! I have loved Hollyhocks since I was a little girl in Michigan. I used to lov sitting beneath them and just watching the hummingbirds go from flower to flower. They are my absolute favorite flower!

  • Nancy
    Comment added June 16, 2017Reply

    I have two hollyhocks but this is the second year that something is eating and putting holes in the leaves. Whatever it is is ruining them. Do you know what it could be and what I could do to stop it ??

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