Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Story of my Sida

As I dig ever deeper into the botanical world it's becoming more and more obvious to me the need to study and understand plants on a daily basis.  This is much easier said than done when one lives in the city where most of the plant life is either cultivated non-natives or at the very least native plants genetically altered to better suit its urban lifestyle.  If your blogger had his way he'd live on a thousand acres covered with woods of varying species composition, savannahs, prairies, barrens, fens, bogs...well you get the idea.  This past spring and summer I got the opportunity to do a bit of an experiment with one of Ohio's more obscure and little-known native plants, Sida hermaphrodita.

Back in late March I partook in a botanical foray around Adams county in search for some of Ohio's earliest bloomers.  Towards the end of the day we came across a roadside population of the Virginia Mallow (S. hermaphrodita) along state route 52 near the Ohio river.  The withered and dried, towering stalks of last years growth swayed in the cool spring breeze as my memory stirred with a blog post published last summer by Jim McCormac on this specific plant found HERE.  I remembered reading how this species does exceptionally well when planted in someone's yard and watered adequately.  Within a few minutes and the help of a shovel I had myself a bare rootball of the Sida plant.  I honestly had no real idea what to expect but was excited at the prospect of the whole thing.  The next day (March 24, 2011) I transplanted it in the backyard of my parent's house, gave it a good watering and wondered if it would grow...and boy did it ever!

*Please click the following photo's to see them in a large, more detailed resolution!  Also, almost all of these were taken with my iPhone so quality is a bit less than the norm*

Just beginning to sprout on 4/15
Status as of 4/23

Before long a few sprouts emerged from the base of last years stalk and continued to grow slowly but surely as time went by.  I decided to photograph the Sida's progress each time I came home to gauge its growth and have something for comparison as time passed.

The Virginia Mallow is a potentially threatened species within Ohio and is only found along the southern-most river counties in Ohio.  In fact, this plant was under consideration for federal listing as a threatened or endangered plant a ways back, as it is quite rare throughout its range.  Several Ohio botanists published an extensive report on the ecology and distribution of this species back in the mid 80's that can be found HERE if interested.  I definitely recommend it for anyone wanting to know more about this truly fascinating plant!

Growth as of 5/4
Growth as of 5/13

Planting it next to the back deck ended up being a good choice.  The preexisting flowerbed provided the plant with good, rich soil and the deck itself with the furniture on it allowed me to really grasp the weekly height growth of the Sida.  Within 5-6 weeks it had already eclipsed the one foot mark and was well on its way to surpassing two feet tall.

Growth as of 5/22
Growth as of 6/3

The pictures above are about two months after being planted and in your bloggers opinion the most aesthetically pleasing point in the plants life-cycle.  The leaves are large and a rich green color, layered nicely up the main stem.  It may still be a good month away from flowering but as you will see the plant gets a much more haggard and rough look as the days and weeks pass.  I started to get texts every few days from my concerned mother on 'the weed'.  How tall/big is it going to get, is it going to take over the flowerbed, etc were common questions.  I assured her 'the weed' or 'your weed' as she liked to call it would cause no harm and would make for quite the conversation piece with backyard visitors.  I think she enjoyed teasing guests by asking them what they thought of her son's 'marijuana plant' growing in the backyard ;).

Growth as of 6/22
Growth as of 7/9 and starting to flower!

When I came back from my week long botanical expedition to the Bruce peninsula in Ontario, Canada I couldn't believe how much it had grown!  It was now as tall as me (I'm 5'9 on a good day) and the flower buds were starting to swell, I couldn't believe it was doing so well.  'The Weed' finally began to flower right around the Forth of July as if it was celebrating the birthday of its home country with its own display of miniature fireworks.  It had eclipsed six feet in height at this point and showed no signs of stopping.  A surprising second stalk had even emerged from the base and was quickly making its way towards the sky.

Main leader reaching for the heavens
Flowers and leaves of the Sida

The flowers are born on long peduncles that originate in the axils of the large, palmate leaves.  At the end of each stalk 4-8 white, hibiscus-like flowers formed and bloomed for a few days before wilting and quickly setting to seed.  It wasn't long before the plant was constantly abuzz with bees, skippers, butterflies and other pollinating insects that I expected to see.  However, there was one pollinator that I never expected, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird!  Much to my delight the hummingbirds couldn't leave this plant alone.  This was an even more welcome surprise for my mother who adores her 'hummies' and spends nearly every evening relaxing on the back porch admiring them.  Yet another plus for planting it so close to the deck!

Close-up of the flowers
The plant at 11' tall on 8/24

After nearly two months of continuous flowering and thousands of visits from the hummingbirds the plant really started to look its age.  Leaves began to yellow, the number of fresh flowers lessened and all the branches began to point up as if surrendering after a long and successful summer.  I decided to cut the plant down on August 24, exactly five months after first placing the root ball in the ground.  I laid the stalk down on the ground and took one last and final measurement to get its exact height.  11'7".  Over 11 feet of growth in five months!  I decided to do the math and determined it grew for 153 days with a final height of 139 inches.  That equates to 0.91 inches of growth PER day!  Wow!  You really could almost watch it grow if you sat there long enough but an inch a day?!

What a fun way to spend the summer watching this plant go from roots to a towering green stalk over 11 feet tall.  I've left the rootball in the ground and it has since begun to re-sprout but will go into hibernation come the first hard frost.  I'm already looking forward to next year and how big it could get.  With a full years growth under its belt and plenty of new roots I have hopes of it growing as tall as 13-14'+!  It was a blast to observe this unique and under-appreciated plant, especially discover it's powerful attraction for hummingbirds!


  1. Very cool, luv the "bring it home" style study..if time is short, bring the fields to you! wish we could do that with em all, see every stage as it happens..;) and PS Thanks, I shot this species on July 28th and had not ID it yet!

  2. Fun and informative article about the Sida, Andrew! (I too have that growing in my back yard in Columbus, from a few seedlings a friend gave me 10 yrs ago. It's doing great, almost weedy, but we love it!)

    Bob K