Fringed Poppy Mallow
Callirhoe digitata
Mallow family (Malvaceae)

Description: This herbaceous perennial plant is 2-4' tall, branching occasionally. It forms a rosette of basal leaves, which usually wither away prior to the blooming period. These basal leaves may be triangular-cordate or palmately lobed. The slender stems are usually glabrous and glaucous; the lower central stem is often terete (furrowed along all sides), while the upper stems are round in circumference. The alternate leaves are up to 5" long and 6" across (excluding their petioles), becoming smaller as they ascend the stems. Each of these leaves is deeply divided into palmate lobes, which are often deeply divided into secondary lobes. The leaves are usually glabrous and glaucous like the stems; their petioles are up to 6" long. The upper stems terminate in one or more flowers on long peduncles (flowering stalks). Each flower is 1-2" across, consisting of 5 magenta petals, 5 green sepals, and a central column of stamens and styles. The outer edge of each petal is slightly fringed and truncate, while the sepals are triangular-ovate with pointed tips. There are no floral bracts underneath the sepals. The blooming period occurs during the summer and lasts about 2 months. There is no floral scent. Each flower matures into a whorl of flattened seeds. Each seed is rectangular, reticulated and pitted along the sides, with little or no pubescence. The root system consists of a woody taproot that is often swollen at the base. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun and mesic to dry conditions. Poor soil containing sand, gravel, or clay is preferred, as this reduces competition from neighboring plants. This plant has a tendency to lean over while in bloom, especially if the soil is too moist and rich.

Range & Habitat: The Fringed Poppy Mallow is an uncommon plant that has naturalized in only two or three counties in Illinois (Peoria and Dupage). The webmaster has observed this species at a prairie restoration in Champaign County (see Distribution Map). The Fringed Poppy Mallow is native to the southern Great Plains, where it is more common. Habitats include upland areas of sand prairies, gravel prairies, savannas with scant ground vegetation, and abandoned fields. This species may appear unexpectedly in a prairie restoration as a result of contaminated seed. In Illinois, it is not aggressive.

Faunal Associations: Bees are probably the most important visitors of the flowers. Deer, rabbits, and other mammalian herbivores eat the foliage of Poppy Mallows readily. Rabbits often eat the lower leaves of the Fringed Poppy Mallow (including the lower leaves of the photographed plant), while deer occasionally chomp off the upper half of the foliage.

Photographic Location: A restored prairie at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: Among the few Callirhoe spp. (Poppy Mallows) that occur in Illinois, the Fringed Poppy Mallow is the tallest. It is a lanky plant with slender stems and finger-like foliage. Some Callirhoe spp. have floral bracts underneath the sepals of each flower; these floral bracts have a leafy or papery-membranous appearance. However, the Fringed Poppy Mallow lacks such bracts. It is also rather distinctive because of the fringed outer edge of its petals, which becomes more pronounced as the flowers mature. Other Poppy Mallows have flowers with unfringed petals.