Plant of the day: checker bloom

An unexpected spray of pink caught my eye along the trail. Here is a checker bloom (or checker mallow) – scientific name Sidalcea malviflora. This showy flower can be found throughout most of California, and is pretty in a sculptural way that makes it look more like a cultivated variety than a wildflower. It can grow up to a foot tall, and sometimes grows en masse in open fields — or scattered singly or in small groups, as I saw it. The flowers are about an inch across, and each vibrantly pink petal is nearly translucent and streaked with numerous pale lines. The white stamens form a fused, fringed tube at the center. Each bloom unfurls above its older neighbor on a long raceme. At any time several are usually in bloom while a cluster of green buds hangs above them, waiting for their turn in the sun. Checker bloom has several other cousins in Marin, all of which look pretty similar, but this is the most common and widespread throughout the state. They are in the Malvaceae family – the fused, fringed male filaments are one of the key ways (“diagnostics”, in botany-speak) to recognize this family.

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