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Hollyhock Flowers: Important in Japanese Culture and Spectacular in Your Garden

Updated on November 2, 2017
Our neighborhood friends, Joseph and Eileen Lagarde here in New Mexico grew these gorgeous double hollyhocks and were nice enough to let us photograph them.
Our neighborhood friends, Joseph and Eileen Lagarde here in New Mexico grew these gorgeous double hollyhocks and were nice enough to let us photograph them. | Source

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock) Festival Photo

In the modern era, a different unmarried woman from Kyoto is picked each year to serve as Saio (high priestess of the Kamo Shrines), who is carried in the festival on a palanquin.
In the modern era, a different unmarried woman from Kyoto is picked each year to serve as Saio (high priestess of the Kamo Shrines), who is carried in the festival on a palanquin.

In Japanese culture, the hollyhock is believed to ward off thunderstorms and earthquakes and the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) is one of the most famous and most celebrated festivals in Japan, featuring a parade of hundreds of people dressed in the aristocratic style of the Heian Period (794-1185). The extremely colorful procession, all wearing hollyhock leaves on their costumes, walks from the Imperial Palace (the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan) to the Kamo Shrines.

This festival, held each year on May 15, originated in about the 7th Century, although its specific origin is unknown. The official name for the festival is actually Kamo Matsuri, because of its association with the shrines—Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine—two of the oldest and more important shrines in Kyoto.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Came to Visit New Mexico

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly patiently waited nearby as we photographed hollyhocks, then couldn't wait to get to them, although I have no idea how this fellow got into this area - must have heard that we had some great plants.
This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly patiently waited nearby as we photographed hollyhocks, then couldn't wait to get to them, although I have no idea how this fellow got into this area - must have heard that we had some great plants. | Source
A Facebook friend of ours, Anna Reese of New Mexico, allowed us to use her photograph of this delightful group of hollyhocks.
A Facebook friend of ours, Anna Reese of New Mexico, allowed us to use her photograph of this delightful group of hollyhocks. | Source

A Lucky Gardener With Almost Pest-Free Hollyhocks

With only a few pests visible, the gardener that grew these hollyhocks was quite lucky.
With only a few pests visible, the gardener that grew these hollyhocks was quite lucky.

Hollyhocks: One of the Edible Flowers

According to the National Gardening Association, hollyhocks are edible, having a bland to a slightly bitter flavor, and they are very simple to grow from seeds, which only need to be planted right below the soil (about 1/4-1/2" deep). They grow quickly and bloom for a really long time in the summer, appearing very stately, which has made them a favorite for gardeners for several generations.

They are generally considered a biennial, but will usually develop leaves and flower during the first year. They will seed, then die off, but they will reseed themselves, so you should have beautiful flowers for many years (causing many people to consider them as perennials). It is also possible to harvest seeds from the plants in the fall if you want to plant them in another location.

If you are interested in propagating your hollyhocks using root cuttings, you can read about how to do so in this great article by the Royal Horticultural Society.

As you can see, the hollyhocks are still beautiful, but pests, as usual, have been eating away at the foliage. Rarely will you find photographs of hollyhocks in which the foliage has not been affected.
As you can see, the hollyhocks are still beautiful, but pests, as usual, have been eating away at the foliage. Rarely will you find photographs of hollyhocks in which the foliage has not been affected. | Source

Are Hollyhocks Poisonous?

If you have a rowdy little pet that likes to try out new things to eat, don't worry if his next snack is a bite off one of your hollyhock flowers—it is not poisonous to dogs when ingested. That being said, however, it can cause dermatitis if it comes in contact with your (or your pet's) skin, so be careful handling them. If your pet does some rolling around on them, you will probably want to bathe it with some type of mild dog shampoo. I suggest wearing gardening gloves when working around these beauties to protect your own skin.

Contact dermatitis or allergic dermatitis around the mouth could be triggered if the flower is eaten, and that can result in aggravating itching of the skin; and/or redness and irritation of the mouth. If your pet eats some, make sure to wash its mouth out with cool water as much as possible.

The worst-case scenario for your pet is if it happens to ingest any of the fungus disease-infected flowers, in which case they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever, coughing and/or lethargy.

Diseases That Can Affect Hollyhocks

Some of the "ugly" diseases to which hollyhocks are susceptible include leaf spot, anthracnose, and rust, which is spread by airborne spores. If your flowers are untreated, rust will invariably appear.

They also tend to attract spider mites and Japanese beetles, which can damage them, but instead of spraying with chemicals, wash the pesky pests off regularly with your garden hose.

If you do want to use control sprays, select some natural ones that are clove or cinnamon based (your pet could get sick if it ingests flowers treated with chemicals).

The Pesky Pests That Love Hollyhocks

  • Hollyhock weevils - There is good news and bad news when it comes to hollyhock weevils. The good news is that, although your plants may be facing some of these little critters laying their eggs on your flowers, the eggs won't affect flower formation. More good news is that insecticidal soap sprayed on these weevils will kill them instantly. The bad news is that the female will chew a small hole in a flower bud, then insert a single egg, which will become enveloped inside the seed pod as it is developing. It is here that the larvae feed and pupate (the embryonic weevils will feed and develop on the seed pods inside the flower, resulting in many of the pods being empty, preventing the self-seeding that most people count on with hollyhocks), then emerge as adults. In late summer or early fall, these adults will drop into the soil. In most locations, however, the weevils produce just one generation each year, but isn't that enough?
  • Sawflies - These pests, which insects related to bees and wasps, feed in groups. There are many different types of sawflies and each type has a particular flower that it likes to feed on, but for this article, we are only addressing the hollyhock sawflies, which can make the leaves on your plants look like a paper magazine that has been chewed by rats in the attic. The adults look very much like a wasp - but don't worry...they won't sting, but they are the most common insect found on hollyhocks, and unlike the weevils, sawflies can lay their eggs about 5-6 times a year.
  • Rust - All of the green parts of hollyhock plants are susceptible to rust. Your plant will most likely not die from the rust, but it is important to inspect your plants often so you can rid them of the rust as soon as it is spotted. If unnoticed, the entire plant will soon be infected, making for some very ugly foliage next to some very pretty flowers. Rust quickly moves from leaf to leaf, then plant to plant because the spores are spread by air currents. You should immediately remove any and all affected leaves, then burn them. If you are searching for an organic solution, Neem Oil is my recommendation, but spraying should be done early in the spring and you should spray the top and bottom side of the leaves. You might also want to thin out your hollyhocks if you have them planted en masse, as better air circulation will aid in keeping rust at bay.
  • Leaf Miners - These are the pests that I despise the most. They will lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. Then, when they emerge from the eggs, they actually "tunnel" into the leaves and feed on the part inside the leaf, leaving foliage discolored, diseased, or dead. The tunnels they make between the layers of the leaves are very noticeable and you might also see some dark excrement or tiny maggots. The affected leaves, in just a few weeks, will probably turn yellow or brown. They will look curled and could simply collapse. Sometimes they just look like they have "blisters." And, leaf miners aren't satisfied just damaging the leaves, they can also damage stems below the soil and can carry soft rot or black leg diseases. and they can lay their eggs several times each summer.

Foliage Damaged by Rust, Leaf Miners and Anthracnose

Hollyhock rust.
Hollyhock rust.
Leaf miners on Hollyhock leaves.
Leaf miners on Hollyhock leaves.
Anthracnose infected Hollyhock leaf.
Anthracnose infected Hollyhock leaf.

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