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Habitat: Lavatera arborea is native to the coasts of western Europe and the Mediterranean region, from the British Isles south to Algeria and Libya, and east to Greece.It tolerates sea water to varying degrees, at up to 100% sea water in its natural habitat, excreting salt through glands on its leaves. This salt tolerance can be a competitive advantage over inland plant species in coastal areas. Its level of salinity tolerance is thought to be improved by soil with higher phosphate content, making guano enrichment particularly beneficial
Lavatera arborea is a shrubby annual, biennial or perennial plant growing to 0.5–2 m (rarely 3 m) tall. The leaves are orbicular, 8–18 cm diameter, palmately lobed with five to nine lobes, and a coarsely serrated margin. The flowers are 3–4 cm diameter, dark pink to purple and grow in fasciculate axillary clusters of two to seven. It grows mainly on exposed coastal locations, often on small islands, only rarely any distance inland….CLICK & SEE THE PICTURES
Although long considered a species of Lavatera, genetic and morphological analysis by Martin Forbes Ray, reported in 1998, suggested it was better placed in the genus Malva, in which it was named Malva dendromorpha M.F.Ray. However the earlier name Malva arborea L. (Webb & Berthol.) was validly published and has priority over Malva dendromorpha.
An easily grown plant, succeeding in any ordinary garden soil in sun or partial shade. Prefers a light well-drained moderately fertile soil in full sun. A soil that is too rich encourages foliar growth at the expense of flowering. Tolerates maritime exposure. Plants are very fast-growing and often flower in their first year from seed. They flower so freely in their second year that they normally die afterwards, though they sometimes perennate. When well sited, this species usually self-sows freely. There are some named forms developed for their ornamental value.
Seed – sow late summer in situ. The seed should germinate within 4 weeks.
Edible Uses: Young leaves – raw or cooked. A mild flavour, but the leaves are dry and hairy and not that agreeable in quantity on their own[K]. They can be used as part of a chopped mixed salad.
The leaves of the species are used in herbal medicine to treat sprains, by steeping them in hot water and applying the poultice to the affected area. It is theorised that lighthouse keepers may have spread the plant to some British islands for use as a poultice and to treat burns, an occupational hazard. Thought to have been used as an alternative to toilet paper. The seeds are edible and are known in Jersey as “petit pains”, or “little breads”.
Tree mallow was considered a nutritive animal food in Britain in the 19th century, and is still sometimes used as animal fodder in Europe.
Lavatera arborea has long been cultivated in British gardens, as described in the 1835 self-published book British Phaenogamous Botany, which used the then-common name Sea Tree-mallow: “This species is frequently met with in gardens, where, if it is allowed to scatter its seeds, it will spring up for many successive years, and often attain a large size. The young plants will, as Sir J. E. Smith observes, now and then survive one or more mild Winters; but having once blossomed it perishes.”
While sometimes detrimental to seabird habitat, management of tree mallow (both planting and thinning) has been successfully employed to shelter nesting sites of the threatened roseate tern, which requires more coverage than common terns to impede predation.
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