The Lavatera Pages :
Shrubby Lavateras (section Olbia in part)

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Lavatera olbia L.
Lavatera bryoniifolia Mill.
Lavatera × clementii Cheek, in part
Lavatera oblongifolia Boiss
Lavatera stenopetala Coss. & Durieu

The most widely grown shrubby mallows (in the British Isles, and most likely in other temperate climates) are the cultivars and hybrids of Lavatera thuringiaca and Lavatera olbia. The origin of the cultivars is imperfectly clear, and they have been variously described under one species, or the other, or as hybrids. Recently they have been classified as the hybrid Lavatera ×clementii . Those that I have found references for this assignment are listed under the hybrid; the remaining cultivars are left unassigned.

Within the British Isles Lavatera olbia and Lavatera thuringiaca are normally known as Lavatera, rather than by an ancient vernacular name. I have encountered the use of Hyères Tree Mallow as a vernacular name for Lavatera olbia (Olbiam is the Latin name for Hyères), and Gay Mallow as a vernacular name for Lavatera thuringiaca.

Lavatera olbia of SW Europe, including Italy and the islands of the western Mediterrean, Lavatera thuringiaca of Central and Eastern Europe and points eastwards, and Lavatera bryoniifolia of SE Europe (Greece, including Crete, and Sicily), Libya and SW Asia, including Cyprus, form a group of closely related species. Also related to this group are Lavatera oblongifolia of southern Spain, Lavatera stenopetala of North Afruica and the herbaceous Lavatera triloba

Lavatera olbia L.
English Lavatera, Hyères Tree Mallow,
Italian Malvone perenne

Lavatera olbia L. is a robust handsome shrub growing to 2m in height with sub-sessile purple-violet flowers. Its lower leaves are 3-5 lobed, and its upper leaves oblong-ovate to lanceolate, often slightly 3-lobed. It is of varying hairyness, and the more hairy forms are sometimes separated as var hispida. It can be distinguished from Lavatera byronifolia by the longer (comparable in length to the sepals) ovate-acuminate epicalyx segments, and tomentose to hispid nutlets.

Synonyms for Lavatera olbia include Althaea olbia Kuntze, Lavatera acutifolia Lam., Lavatera africana Cav., Lavatera hispida Desf., Lavatera pseudoolbia Poir., Lavatera undulata Desf., Malva pallida Salisb., Olbia hastata Moench. and Olbia hispida Presl.

photograph at Pepiniere Filippi
photograph at Arboles Ornamentales

In general Lavatera olbia is not reliably hardy in British conditions, but some locations and some forms may be exceptions to this observation.

The following cultivars are known.

Eyecatcher Lilac Lady Pink Frills
Eyecatcher Lilac

olbia 'Aurea': listed by an American Nursery as "golden French tree mallow".

olbia 'Eyecatcher': similar to ×clementii 'Rosea', but with more prominently lobed leaves, and darker, almost red, flowers. The petals have still darker veining, converging into an eye.

olbia 'Lilac Lady': small pale-violet flowers, with darker veining. It was found to be non-hardy in the RHS trials (in south east England) of woody Lavateras. However I have an anecdotal report of it overwintering in south west England.

olbia 'Pink Frills':often said to have double or semi-double flowers this has in fact single flowers in which the petals are exceptionally broad, overlapping by nearly half their width with the petals on each side.

The flowers are sub-sessile (almost stalkless). Their petals are pale rose (RHS colour chart 75C) in colour, with rose red claws. They are broadly obovate in shape, with the apices truncate and undulate, and have about 9 veins. The staminal column bears about 100 stamens on its upper part. The anthers are white. The style branches are dull scarlet in colour, and longer than those of Lavatera thuringiaca and Lavatera clementii. The young leaves are ruffled, and somewhat glaucous.

Lavatera bryoniifolia Mill.

Lavatera byronifolia Mill. is similar to Lavatera olbia, but has spear-shaped floral leaves. It may also be distinguished by the shorter, abruptly acuminate, epicalyx segments, and the glabrous nutlets.

Synonyms for Lavatera byronifolia include Lavatera plazzae A.D. Atzei, Lavatera sphaciota Gandoger, Lavatera tomentosa Dum.-Cours. and Lavatera unguiculata Desf.

Lavatera ×clementii Cheek

Hybrids between Lavatera thuringiaca and Lavatera olbia are classified as Lavatera ×clementii . These are the predominant shrubby Lavateras in horticultural use; a score or more vegatatively propagated cultivars are available. Although they are generally sterile, seed is also occasionally offered.

These are generally intermediate between the parent species, but vary in form. At least one cultivar ('Candy Floss') is herbaceous.

The style branches of all observed Lavatera ×clementii cultivars are intermediate in length between those of Lavatera thuringiaca (short) and Lavatera olbia (long).


Cultivars which are known to me to be assignable to Lavatera ×clementii are described on a separate Lavatera ×clementii page. Cultivars assignable to the species are described above. Cultivars known to belong to this group, but for which the taxon to which they should be assigned is unknown to me, are described below. Further cultivars which may belong to this group, but whose nature is unknown to me, are described on the other Lavateras page.


BURGUNDY 'Catbri': a variety available in France, which I presume is not the same as 'Burgundy Wine', though the similarity of names is unforturnate.

'Dwarf Pink': mentioned at Staudengärtneri Dieter Gaissmeyer; I have encountered no other references to this cultivar. It is possibly the same as 'Shorty'.

'Grey Beauty': a Dutch raised shrub with flowers similar to those of 'Barnsley' and foliage with a dense coating of silver-grey hairs. It has also been distributed under the name 'Silver Barnsley', but its relationship to 'Barnsley' is not clear to me.

'Lucy in the Sky': a 'blue' flowered Lavatera, perhaps similar to 'Lilac Lady' or 'Moody Blue'.

'Memmingen': a German variety, named after a town in Bavaria, with pink flowers.


'Our Dwarf': dwarf (30"), pale-flowered, form.

'Saxtead': a smaller variety, with darker flowers than 'Shorty'.

'Variegata': a synonym of 'Wembdon Variegated'.

'Silver Barnsley': a synonym of 'Grey Beauty'.

'Wembdon Variegated' syn. 'Variegata': a variegated cultivar.

'White Satin' is a white flowered cultivar, otherwise similar to 'Rosea', growing to 1.5m.

Lavatera oblongifolia Boiss

Lavatera oblongifolia Boiss is a perennial from 60 to 150 cm high, woody at the base, with a dense covering of yellowish hairs. The leaves are up to 7.5 x 4 cm, ovate-lanceolate to oblong, cordate, crenate-dentate (not lobed, unlike most other Lavateras), with a stalk up to 15 mm. The flowers occur solitarily in the leaf-axils, with stalks up to 15 mm, and are 3-5cm across. The epicalyx-segments are 6-8 mm, deltate, obtuse, about half as long as the sepals, The sepals are lanceolate, acute erect. The petals are pink with a purplish base. The mericarps are smooth, and usually glabrous, with the dorsal face and angles rounded.

Its distribution is in southern Spain (Almeria and Granada provinces).

Althaea oblongifolia Kuntze is a synonym of Lavatera oblongifolia.

Lavatera stenopetala Coss. & Durieu

L. stenopetala is a subshrub from 60 to 150 cm high. The leaves are borne on long petioles. The lower leaves are 5-7 cm long, cordate, ovate and pubescent. The upper leaves are cuneate and subcordate, 3-lobed, with the middle lobe the longest.

The flowers occur solitarily in the leaf-axils. The pedicels are shorter than the corresponding petioles. The bracteoles are small (5 mm long) and ovate in outline with obtuse apices. The sepales are about 8 mm long, and are of triangular shape, with acute apices. Baker1 describes the corolla as being 5-6 cm across; Quezel2 describes it as being approximately 2 cm across.. The petals are rose-pink, narrow, and deeply bilobed.

Lavatera stenopetala is endemic to Algeria, where it is found on clay soils.

Althaea stenopetala Kuntze is a synonym of Lavatera stenopetala.


  1. Baker, Synopsis of Genera and Species of Malveæ, in Journal of Botany Vol. XXVIII (1890)
  2. Quezel and Santa, Nouvelle Flore de L'Algérie (1963)


Photographs are © Gerhard Sandtner, and are reproduced with permission.


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