Photographing Bush-mallows for Identification

A couple of the tricky things about bush-mallows is that the flowers all look pretty much identical from a strait-on view and the leaves can be really variable. This doesn't mean a photograph of them isn't useful, but I'm going to show you what will help most.

Most important, take a close-up side-view image of the flower. The calyx, bracts, and hairs are very important for ID. If the flowers aren't open, the buds can still be very useful. Here's a good example of Nuttall's bush-mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus var. nuttallii) showing the side view of a flower and bud:

If the inflorescence is really dense, you can pull off an individual flower and just photograph that from the side. If you do this, try to get the three bracts just below the calyx. The length and shape of these compared to the calyx is very important. Here's and example of a many-flowered bush-mallow (Malacothamnus densiflorus) where I plucked off a flower for a better photo:

It's also good to have a photo of the whole inflorescence. Here's again Nuttall's bush-mallow:

Stem hairs are extremely important. Hairs can vary along the stem based on the maturity of that area. If I only photograph one spot, I usually focus near the base of the inflorescence as that area is more consistent than the various maturities near the tip. Note in this photo how you can easily see the individual stem hairs on the left and not so much on the right:

Glandular hairs are often very difficult to see and photograph, but are very important for differentiating some species/taxa. Note the thicker-based, yellow-green hairs in this photo of Arroyo Seco bush-mallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus):

While they may not get you to the species by itself, leaves can certainly help. Color, hairs, shape, and difference between top and bottom can be helpful. Higher/immature leaves may look quite different from lower/mature leaves. Note in this photo of horehound bush-mallow (Malacothamnus marrubioides) I show both sides of the leaves:

Recently I found that the way the flowers dry may be important for identification. Note in this photo of Heller's bush-mallow (Malacothamnus helleri) how the flowers are drying fairly open:

In this photo of arcuate bush-mallow (Malacothamnus arcuatus), you can see how the flowers are drying closed:

If you are in a desert transition area and all you have is fruit, take a photo of the carpels which will distinguish Malacothamnus from Sphaeralcea:

The more photos you take of different parts of the plant, the easier it is to identify. Good luck!

Posted by keirmorse keirmorse, September 09, 2016 19:38


Great examples, and something that I wasn't aware of.

Posted by finatic almost 6 years ago (Flag)

Will definitely try and keep these tips in mind the next time I see one.

Posted by kueda almost 6 years ago (Flag)

Me too!

Posted by leslie_flint over 5 years ago (Flag)

nice thanks for the tips

Posted by loarie over 5 years ago (Flag)


Posted by hfabian over 5 years ago (Flag)

I just updated this post to include a few more examples and add drying flowers which might turn out to be very useful for some species.

Posted by keirmorse about 5 years ago (Flag)

awesome, thanks! I'll apply these to others plants as well that give me headaches, like the Plagiobothrys haha.

Posted by myosotisalpestris about 5 years ago (Flag)

Interesting! I'll refer to this next time I'm out and about.

Posted by hogpotato almost 5 years ago (Flag)

Excellent tips! Thank you.

Posted by fieryskipper over 4 years ago (Flag)

Thanks so very much---very useful!

Posted by desertnaturalist about 4 years ago (Flag)

You're welocme

Posted by hfabian about 4 years ago (Flag)

Thank you, this is super information on how to photograph bush-mallows and other plants.

Posted by bryn_potter over 3 years ago (Flag)

great stuff!

Posted by eightysixcrooks almost 3 years ago (Flag)

Carpels added with examples of Malacothamnus vs. Sphaeralcea.

Posted by keirmorse over 2 years ago (Flag)

great info! Will keep these in mind when photographing.

Posted by sshigenaga 2 months ago (Flag)

I am just now seeing this and will try to remember these tips when I'm in the field

Posted by elizabeth_lockhart 2 months ago (Flag)

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