Checkermallows – An Easy-to-Grow, Perennial PNW Native Vegetable
Checkermallows, or checkerblooms, are a fantastic and easy-to-grow perennial vegetable native to the Pacific Northwest (PNW). But they’re also found in California and other areas in the western United States. They can make a great edible addition to your gardens, food forests, or other growing spaces! Let’s dive into why checkermallows are such a great native vegetable.
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While there are over 20 different types of checkermallows, I’m going to focus on 2 varieties that are found scattered across western Washington, Oregon and California.
- Henderson’s Checkermallow – Sidalcea hendersonii
- Rose Checkermallow – Sidalcea malviflora
The 2 covered in this post are edible, and I’ve eaten a fair bit of both of them. But it’s likely that all checkermallows are edible given the plant family they’re in. (Make sure before you decide to eat one). This makes them a great edible option if you live in their native range.
All 20+ species of checkermallows are found in western North America.
Checkermallows are in the family Malvaceae which includes well-known plants such as okra, linden trees, and hibiscus flowers.
Finding native plants such as checkermallows can sometimes be a challenge. One option is to look up local foraging groups. But there are other ways to look up native plants. Here are a couple links to help you get started.
- Findaforager.com – A great site for finding foragers in your area that are willing to help people learn about wild edible plants.
- How to Find Native Plants for Your Property
What makes these 2 checkermallows great as native vegetables is that they’re easy to grow, they’re gorgeous, and pollinators just love them.
Oh, and they taste great. What’s not to love?
But these 2 wonderful native vegetables are just the start. Regardless of where you live, there are likely a number of native vegetables just waiting for you to try. Want to learn more about native vegetables? Grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet all about native wild vegetables.
Growing Henderson’s and Rose Checkermallows
Henderson’s checkermallow is native across western Washington, parts of western Oregon, up into British Columbia in Canada and even the southern tips of Alaska!
While it prefers moist conditions and can be found growing wild in moist meadows, I’ve had no problems growing it in full sun in one of my food forests even without extra summer water.
But I’ve made sure to give this area a good layer of wood chip mulch, which helps to keep the soil moist.
Just what Henderson’s checkermallow likes!
Henderson’s checkermallow, when in flower, can get up to 3 feet (91.4 cm) in height. And when fully established, it can reach 2 feet (61 cm) in width.
Rose checkermallow tends to grow in drier conditions and is found in western Oregon and all the way down into southern California. In its native areas, it often grows in areas that dry out completely in the summer but are wet in the winter.
Rose checkermallow is also known for growing well in heavy soils, though I’ve found Henderson’s checkermallow also does well in these soils on my property.
This variety is likely not native to western WA, (though some sources do show it here, too.) But since it’s found in western OR, I decided to give it a go, since climate change is likely to shift its range northward.
When in flower, rose checkermallow tends to reach about 2 feet (61 cm) in height and width. Though the flower stalks do tend to lean over and grow out at an angle. Henderson’s checkermallow generally stays upright and doesn’t fall over.
Both of these plants do fine in full sun or partial shade.
And both of these checkermallows bloom in June through August here in western WA, though by the end of July many of the flowers are transitioning to seeds.
Butterflies and other pollinators really love checkermallows—I love watching bumblebees visiting them each year.
With their bright pink flowers and edible leaves, they really make a fantastic addition to any food forest, or even in your garden!
Info on Henderson's Checkermallow – Sidalcea hendersonii
Info on Rose Checkermallow – Sidalcea malviflora
Harvesting and Eating Checkermallows
For both of these checkermallows, the leaves are the main harvest. But you can also add the flowers as a colorful topping to your salads.
So far, I’ve only eaten the leaves raw, but they can be cooked and added to any dish that would regularly use greens.
The leaves have a nice mild flavor that I really enjoy. They have their own unique flavor, but they don’t have any spice or heat to them.
They really are just another leafy vegetable, and can be used just like you would chard, spinach, lettuce, orach, or any other mild leafy vegetable.
Of course, as perennial greens they produce year after year with very little care needed once established. I haven’t had to water any of my checkermallows, even during their first year.
And as a long-lived perennial, you will have harvests for years to come.
The leaves are a bit fuzzy when raw, but they’re still a great salad green. They’re also described as somewhat mucilaginous, but I haven’t noticed any sliminess from them. But this means that they can be used to thicken soups!
One great thing about Henderson’s and rose checkermallows is that you can harvest the leaves all through the growing season, from early spring into the fall.
In the fall, the leaves will mostly die back as the weather cools.
Flowering doesn’t reduce the quality of the leaf harvests. You can also eat large or small leaves—even the largest leaves stay tender and easy to eat raw.
They really make a great salad when mixed with other greens like miner’s lettuce or Pacific waterleaf (two other great native perennial vegetables!) or any other leafy vegetables from your garden!
Checkermallows tend to be fairly uncommon in the wild. Because of this, it’s best to avoid harvesting wild growing plants for food. Instead, plant them in your own garden or food forest!
Getting Started with These 2 Great Native Vegetables
So are you convinced to give these 2 great native vegetables a go? I hope so! But I bet you’re wondering how to find them.
Luckily, here in the Pacific Northwest, there are some great native plant nurseries that sell these plants. Here are some options for purchasing plants or seeds:
Places to Get Checkermallows
Sources for Henderson’s checkermallow and rose checkermallow.
- 1Rose checkermallow seeds: Northwest Meadowscapes
- 2Henderson’s checkermallow plants: Native Foods Nursery
- 3Rose checkermallow plants: Native Foods Nursery
- 4Wholesale bareroot checkermallow plants: Fourth Corner Nurseries*
- 5Potted checkermallow plants: Woodbrook Native Plant Nursery*
* Availability of checkermallows tend to be a bit variable from these nurseries.
Each plant produces large amounts of seeds, and they are fairly easy to grow from seed. They just need scarification and 4 weeks of cold, moist stratification. Or you can sow the seeds in the fall and let nature take care of the stratification!
You don’t need very many of these great plants to provide all the greens you could want. Though the butterflies and other pollinators will thank you if you plant extras!
Like many perennial plants, the best time to plant your new checkerblooms is actually in the fall after they go dormant. But you can plant them in the spring, too, though they may need some watering to get established.
Often you can skip watering perennials that are planted in the fall or winter, since the early planting gives them more time to get established before the summer heat comes.
In my experience, checkermallows handle transplanting fine and thrive with a good layer of mulch. They really are easy to plant and care for.
The only maintenance you may want to do is to cut the flower stalks back a bit once they’re done flowering. If you let them go to seed first, you might get some volunteers in the spring—free plants!
Cutting the flower stalks back will make the plants look cleaner and may encourage more blooms. But if you can leave a foot (30.5 cm) or so of the stalks still standing, you can help native bees overwinter. This is a great and simple way to support these critical native pollinators.
If you’re looking for a great native perennial vegetable to get started with, then you can’t go wrong with checkermallows! If you live in western North America then there are likely some great checkermallows already growing wild in your area.
And if you live in the Pacific Northwest, then make sure to give Henderson’s checkermallow and rose checkermallow a go!
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