Pavonia acerifolia

Pavonias are tenacious little plants, as proved by the fact that my potted Pavonia hastata has survived for at least seven years and possibly as long as ten. My records show that I germinated seeds of that particular species in both 2007 and 2010, but which I kept remains a mystery.

The term “little” can be misleading, as pavonias will stay relatively small in a pot, but generally can grow to 3 feet or taller when set in the ground. Their flowers are diminutive when compared to other members of the mallow family, though, usually no more than 1 to 2 inches in diameter and often resembling miniature hibiscuses.

Among the most popular these days are lasiopetala with pink flowers, missionum with orange ones, and the aforesaid hastata with purple-centered white or pale pink blooms. According to the Dave’s Garden PlantFiles, most of those are hardy from USDA zones 8 through 11, but may die back to the ground during winter in the colder areas of that range.

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Pavonias can flower for months in climates where they are happy. Dave’s Garden member htop reports that lasiopetala “blooms from March to November in South Central Texas.” My potted hastata isn’t that prolific and tends to perform in late summer or early autumn after it has gotten over the shock of being moved outside and cut back.

If your plant hasn’t bloomed but you find seedpods on it anyway, rest assured that you aren’t losing your mind. Some pavonias are cleistogamous and can produce seeds without flowering, most often in early spring.

Pavonia x gledhilliMore glossily exotic and less cold resistant than other pavonias is Brazilian Candles (Pavonia x gledhilli). The “holder” on each candle is formed by red bracts which clasp a furled purple “taper” with a protruding stamen “wick.” This pavonia reportedly is only hardy to zone 10, but makes an ever “burning” houseplant.

Pavonia germination can be tricky. My hastata seeds sprouted quickly, in five days in one case and eleven days in another. But the lasiopetala and missionum seeds I tried this spring took much longer—months, in fact!

I sowed some which I had received in a trade in mid-February, soaking them in water overnight first, setting them about 1/16 of an inch deep in damp seed-starting medium, and keeping them at normal room temperatures (in the 70s Fahrenheit). When those seeds hadn’t germinated by early April, I planted more, soaking them briefly in a peroxide and water mix first, as I’d seen recommended online. It didn’t help!

In his second supplement to Seed Germination Theory and Practice, Norman Deno recommends puncturing the seed coat on lasiopetala to hasten germination. He also mentions that its seeds are no longer viable once they’ve been stored for a couple years, so try to get fresh ones if you can.

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When I moved my seedlings outdoors in May, I moved the containers in which nothing had germinated outside with them--and finally saw a few sprouts appear in late June. I’ll have to hope those actually are my tardy pavonias and not some mallow-like weed which planted itself!

Once actually up, pavonias aren’t hard to grow in well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. They do tend to get leggy. So, if yours don’t die back to the ground over winter in the zones where they are hardy, you might want to cut them back that far instead to ensure that they branch out. Native to Texas, lasiopetala reportedly is amazingly drought resistant and may survive conditions which kill mature trees, but x gledhilli prefers afternoon shade to keep it soigné in the hottest climates.

Once you’ve grown these particular species, you’ll still have 150 or so more to go. Although pavonias aren’t well known, it isn’t for lack of trying!

The Pavonia missionum photo is by bootandall and the Pavonia lasiopetala image by htop, both from the Dave’s Garden PlantFiles. The Pavonia x gledhilli photo is by Alex Lomax, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and this license. The antique image of Pavonia acerifolia is from Icones Plantarum Selectarum Horti Regii Botanici Berolinensis by H. F. Link and F. Otto, courtesy of plantillustrations.org. The banner image of Pavonia hastata is my own. The license link is https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/