2021 November 21

I have it on good authority that “Hollyhocks are the single prettiest flower grown on Earth.”[1] And we have some growing right next to our front door. They certainly have a long blooming season, they started flowering sometime in mid-summer, and the last few blossoms were still there on October 5, 2021.


They come in multiple colors, too.


The blossom interior is pretty straightforward, with the pollen on the big spike in the center, and the pistils that receive the pollen being those five little flat structures at the bases of the petals.


However, the actual plant isn’t as pretty as the blossoms are, especially late in the season when they are pretty long and straggly.


The leaves are broad, with ragged edges, and this was about the only one that hadn’t been chewed up at least somewhat by insects. When they first come up in the spring, they resemble burdocks, which are a noxious weed. So, we need to be careful not to pull up the wrong thing in the spring.


Hollyhocks are in the genus Alcea, and the ones in gardens are probably common hollyhocks, Alcea rosea. These are in the mallow family, with the characteristic disk-shaped seed heads.


When you pop open the head, the individual seeds are nearly circular and flat, which probably helps them flutter to the ground and spread around.


Hollyhocks are perennials and come up from the roots every year, and are absurdly easy to raise. There are some over by my beehives that were planted by the previous owners of our property, over 25 years ago, and they keep coming up even though I do absolutely nothing to take care of them.

[1] From “The Aliens who Know, Like, I Mean, Everything”, by George Alec Effinger:

The vast desert had been turned into a botanical miracle. There were miles and miles of flowering plants now, instead of the monotonous dead sand and gravel sea. Of course, the immense garden contained nothing but hollyhocks, many millions of hollyhocks. I mentioned to Pleen that the people of Earth had been hoping for a little more in the way of variety, and something just a trifle more practical, too.
“What do you mean, ‘practical’?” he asked.
“You know,” I said. “Food”.
“Don’t worry about food,” said Pleen. “We’re going to take care of hunger pretty soon.”
“Good, good. But hollyhocks?”
“What’s wrong with hollyhocks?”
“Nothing”, I admitted.
“Hollyhocks are the single prettiest flower grown on Earth.”
“Some people like orchids,” I said. “Some people like roses.”
“No,” said Pleen firmly. “Hollyhocks are it. I wouldn’t kid you.”

The story is about aliens who visit Earth, and have the ultimately very annoying trait that they have very firm positions on everything. They won’t even concede that these positions are opinions, but instead insist that they are objectively true. This leads to everything in their world being either divided into masterpieces and abominations, or firmly ranked in an obviously-objectively-correct order. And they are eager to share these positions with everyone that they meet, whether anyone else wants to hear it or not. Hilarity ensues.

I originally read it when it came out in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1984, and for some reason the bit about the hollyhocks in particular stuck in my mind. It’s currently available in a couple of ebooks on Amazon:



2 Responses
  1. jenn ridley permalink
    November 22, 2021

    I haven’t been able to grow hollyhocks down here. I suspect mostly it’s critters, because I can’t see any other reason why, although it’s possible that the garden where I put them doesn’t get enough sun.

    I should try again, in a different garden, because I do like them.

  2. December 13, 2021

    I like those aliens. I think they have the right idea.

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