Everything You Need to Know About Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) are a popular old-fashioned flower that once adorned flowerbeds across rural America. These showy flowers are making a comeback as gardeners embrace reviving America’s past and enjoy re-creating those traditional flowerbeds of times past. These hardy biennials thrive in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9 and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other flying insects. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about the rich history and meaning of hollyhock flowers, their uses and benefits, popular types, and cultural significance around the world today. 


Hollyhocks Meaning & Symbolism

Hollyhocks symbolize the circle of life, ambition, fertility, and abundance. They have traditionally been planted near the front door of homes to welcome prosperity. Egyptians frequently placed wreaths of hollyhocks with the mummified to help them in their journey to the afterlife.


About Hollyhocks

About Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy

Hollyhocks belong to the genus of Alcea a member of the Malvaceae or Mallow family. There are approximately 60 species of Alcea with ‘Alcea rosea’ being the common species grown in flowerbeds.

Botanical Characteristics

Hollyhocks range in color from white, yellow, and pastel pink to lovely shades of red, blue, and purple. Some hollyhock flowers are so dark they are nearly black. These bell-shaped flowers feature papery petals that resemble crêpe paper. Flowers can be both single and double petaled with the double (or full) petaled varieties resembling a lovely carnation.

As a biennial plant hollyhocks self-seed freely germinating in the summer and forming a rosette of new foliage by fall. The rosette overwinters and resumes growing in the spring sending up a tall spire lined with flower buds. Flowers bloom along the spire opening from the bottom of the spire and work their way to the top.

Hollyhocks range in height from 3 to 8 feet, depending on the cultivar and the growing conditions. These tall slender flowers are ideal for the backs of beds, along fences, or planted against buildings as they often need some support to keep them upright, especially if you live in a windy location.

Etymological Meaning

Traditional sources say the hollyhock derives its name from the Old English word holi meaning holy and hoc meaning mallow, but there are other explanations worth considering. According to legend, the hollyhock got its name because it was brought from the Holy Land.

In addition, the Crusaders used hollyhocks to make a salve to treat injuries for their horses’ hind legs, called hocks. The name Hollyhocks is thought to be the combination of Holy (for the Holy Land) and hock for its healing properties for the horses’ hind legs.

What regions are Hollyhocks native to?

Hollyhocks are native to Southern Europe and China.

When are Hollyhocks in Season?

Hollyhocks bloom from early to midsummer until the frost in the fall.


Popular Hollyhock Types, Species, and Cultivars

The most popular species of hollyhocks grown in home gardens are ‘Alcea rosea’. But that shouldn’t limit your choices when it comes to hollyhocks as there are many cultivars within the species worth considering.

‘Peaches and Dreams’

'Peaches and Dreams'

This delightful hollyhock is double petaled giving it the appearance of a carnation. The delicate pink petals have peach undertones, and the center gives a delicate glow of yellow. These hollyhocks are showstoppers in the garden but be aware the double petaled varieties do not attract bees and butterflies quite as abundantly as single-petaled cultivars.

‘Halo’ Hollyhocks

‘Halo’ Hollyhocks

‘Halo’ Hollyhocks include a variety of colors and earn their name from their bi-colored blooms with contrasting light-colored centers. ‘Red Halo’ sports raspberry-colored petals with a creamy yellow center, while ‘Halo Apricot’ features muted pink petals that transition to dark purple-pink in the throat with a creamy yellow center. ‘Halo Lavender’ is a lovely shade of purple with a soft pink center.

Black Hollyhocks

Black Hollyhocks

This striking hollyhock is a deep purple hollyhock with single petals that are so dark it looks black unless it is in bright light. The center is a glowing purple that fades to a splash of yellow. This hollyhock adds contrast to brighter flowers in the garden. It attracts butterflies and flying insects.

‘Chater’s Double’

'Chater’s Double'

‘Chater’s Double’ is the way to go if you enjoy a variety of colors and big fluffy blooms. This variety includes white, peach, yellow, and pastel pinks as well as brilliant scarlet and lovely shades of purple. The double petals create a pompom shape similar to carnations.

‘Old Barnyard Mix’

'Old Barnyard Mix'

This delightful mix sports single petals in a wide range of colors from red, maroon, and salmon to pink and yellow with several bi-colors thrown into the mix. If you are looking to fill your garden with a variety of single petaled hollyhocks give ‘Old Barnyard Mix’ a try.


Uses and Benefits of Hollyhocks

Uses and Benefits of Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks have a rich history as herbal remedies. They have been used to alleviate pain, treat stomach ulcers, heal wounds and treat diabetes, but there is not enough medical evidence to back up the claims. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been used successfully to treat a variety of ailments including:

  • Treating fevers and sore throats
  • Treating abdominal pain, gastritis, IBS, and diarrhea
  • Relieving nasal congestion and respiratory symptoms
  • Treating burns
  • Improving circulation

Hollyhock tea made from the flower petals is thought to ease digestive issues, soothe a sore throat and mouth sores, and even treat the loss of appetite.

The flower petals are also used to color jellies, jams, and other confections and beverages whilst the flower petals and buds can be added to salads. All parts of the hollyhock plant are edible and have been used for herbal treatments. 


Hollyhocks Meaning & Symbolism

The hollyhock symbolizes the circle of life, ambition, fertility, and abundance. The color of the flower can also affect the intrinsic meaning and symbolism of the hollyhock in the language of flowers:

Red Hollyhock Flower Meaning: 

Red Hollyhock Flower Meaning

A red hollyhock symbolizes like many red flowering plants has a deep symbolic connection with love, romance, and passion. 

Purple Hollyhock Flower Meaning:

Purple Hollyhock Flower Meaning

A purple hollyhock represents charm and grace, but can also symbolize a transition. Purple is often a regal color, symbolic of royalty, tradition, and standing.

White Hollyhocks Flower Meaning:

White Hollyhocks Flower Meaning

A white hollyhock symbolizes innocence, purity, honesty, and fertility. 

Pink Hollyhocks Flower Meaning:

Pink Hollyhocks Flower Meaning

A pink hollyhock symbolize sensitivity, love, and thoughtfulness. 

Yellow Hollyhocks Flower Meaning: 

Yellow Hollyhocks Flower Meaning

A yellow hollyhock symbolizes friendship, trust, and respect.


The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Hollyhocks

During the Victorian Times, hollyhocks were grown to conceal the outhouse. Not only did they make the area more attractive, but they also ensured the ladies of the day didn’t need to ask for the location of the outhouse, saving them embarrassment in public.

Hollyhock wreathes were buried with mummies in Ancient Egypt to help them through the afterlife.

In the mystical realm, hollyhock flowers were thought to be skirts for flower fairies, while the seed head was called fairy cheese as it resembles a large wheel of cheese.

Hollyhock flowers combined with wild thyme, marigolds, and hazel flowers were used to make a concoction that when consumed was believed to allow humans to see fairies.


Suitable Gifting Occasions for Hollyhocks

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks are a suitable gift for housewarmings, promotions, graduations, and birthdays. Hollyhock plants, especially if they are being passed on from someone’s garden, are a great way to celebrate the circle of life and wish good luck and abundance to the recipient.


How to Care for Fresh Cut Hollyhocks at Home

Hollyhocks make an attractive addition to floral displays with their papery flowers along tall spires. Flowers like hollyhocks, that have hollow stems require special care before placing them in a vase of water.

  1. Cut the spires with unopened buds and remove any foliage that will rest below the water level in the vase.
  2. Hold the flower spire upside down and fill the hollow stem with water.
  3. Plug the end of the stem with absorbent floral foam or a piece of cotton.
  4. Pierce one or two holes in the stem with a pin just below the lowest flowers on the spire. This prevents trapped air bubbles in the stem.
  5. Place the cut flower in the vase of water.
  6. Change the water every 3 to 4 days or whenever it becomes discolored. You will need to re-cut the stem and follow the procedure above again.

Wrap Up

Hollyhocks are reminiscent of cottage or kitchen gardens and can be especially endearing if they are passed on from generation to generation. These flowers will naturalize in the flower bed as they self-seed easily keeping the bed alive with color for years to come.


Hollyhock Flowers FAQ: 

Hollyhocks typically flower abundantly during the late spring and summer months each year.

The majority of hollyhock cultivars thrive in full sun to partial shade locations. If you live in a particularly warm climate with intense afternoon sun try to find a location with some shade during those peak hours to provide some respite for the delicate petals.

Hollyhocks thrive in well-draining, fertile soil. Due to their height, it’s best to plant near some form of support that will also serve to protect the growing flowers from the wind such as a fence, wall, or trellis.

Hollyhocks are self-seeding plants so will naturally spread year after year.

Hollyhocks symbolize the circle of life, ambition, fertility, and abundance. Traditionally these flowers have been planted near the front door to welcome in prosperity to the home.


Author

I’ve long been fascinated with the world of flowers, plants, and floral design. I come from a family of horticulturists and growers and spent much of my childhood in amongst the fields of flowering blooms and greenhouses filled with tropical plants, cacti, and succulents from all over the world. Today, my passion has led me to further explore the world of horticulture, botany, and floristry and I'm always excited to meet and collaborate with fellow enthusiasts and professionals from across the globe. I hold a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and have trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris.

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