Rust-Resistant Hollyhocks


The fig-leaf hollyhock (Alcea ficifolia) is rust-resistant.

Who says all hollyhocks (Alcea spp.) are infested with rust (Puccinia malvacearum), a disease that burns up the lower leaves before the end of the summer? True enough, there are no rust-resistant varieties of the species most often sold, the common hollyhock (Alcea rosea), but there are more than other 60 species of Alcea. Surely among that many species, there must be at least a few that are just as ornamental as the common hollyhock, but without rust problems?

Lots of Choice


Russian hollyhock (Alcea rugosa)

And indeed, if you just do a little research, you’ll discover that there are in fact many hollyhock species that are rust-resistant, including the following: fig-leaf or Antwerp hollyhock (A. ficifolia), Russian hollyhock (A. rugosa), Kurd hollyhock (A. kurdica), and Turkish hollyhock (A. pallida).


Fig-leaf hollyhock ‘Happy Lights’ (Alcea ficifolia ‘Happy Lights’)

Note that the fig-leaf hollyhock, especially, looks almost exactly like the common hollyhock except that its leaves are hand-shaped rather than rounded. Although the species has pale yellow flowers, some varieties, such as ‘Antwerp Mix’, ‘Happy Lights’, ‘Las Vegas’, and ‘Old Fashioned Mix’, come in the same color range as the common hollyhock: red, pink, yellow, white, purple, and almost black, have flowers just as big and attractive, and flower just as long, that is, almost all summer. I simply don’t understand why the fig-leaf hollyhock did not replace its disease-ridden cousin, the common hollyhock, long ago.

That said, I must admit that as far as I know, there are no fig-leaf hollyhocks with double flowers. If you want double blooms, you have little choice but to turn to the common hollyhock… and its rust problems.

Diseased Plants on Sale In a Garden Center Near You!


Hollyhock rust at a fairly advanced stage. Photo: Rutgers University.

Sadly, most garden centers still sell only hollyhock plants infested with rust. And I’m not exaggerating. Go into the average garden center, look for their stock of hollyhocks (most only sell common hollyhock) and turn over a leaf or two. You’ll already see the first orange pustules that will soon spread all over the leaves! They’re offering you a pre-diseased plant!

Fortunately, even if plants of rust-resistant hollyhocks are rarely seen in garden centers, seeds of the “good hollyhocks” are commonly available in seed catalogs, both printed and virtual. I suggest checking your favorite seed catalog to see.

Generations of gardeners know that hollyhocks are easy to grow from seed. Either sow them indoors in March or April or directly outdoors in May. They’ll bloom the following year.

Note that all the species discussed here are are hardy to zone 3.