Nature Alert: Checker Mallows

Any of you suckers—ahem valued readers— take my advice a couple weeks back and head out looking for golden paintbrush? Think I had you searching for fool’s gold? Well, I got something else for you to try. 

Checker-mallows, in the genus Sidalcea, consist of many of the Willamette Valley’s signature rare wildflower species, which are in bloom through most of June. In this area, we are fortunate to have five species that can be found—Cusick’s, Rose, Meadow, Nelson’s, and Bristly-stem checker-mallows. Unfortunately, many of these species aren’t doing too hot in terms of their population sizes. For example, while Nelson’s checker-mallow is not considered locally extinct, it did retain federal recognition as threatened in 1993, beating golden paintbrush to that high honor by four years. Similar to other native plants, its decline is largely the cause of shrinking habitat availability due to human development and an absence of fire management. 

However depressing that same old story may be, catching a glimpse of any of our native checker-mallows is sure to turn your half-empties into half-fulls. With their clusters of magenta to pale pink flowers on tall stalks, they are relatively easy to make out among the grasses of the wet meadows they call home. 

Finley Wildlife Refuge and Jackson-Frazier Wetlands are prime spots to check out the checker-mallows, and the flowers are found often enough in roadside ditches that you may not even need to go that far once you know what you’re looking for. Even better—head to your local native plant nursery to incorporate these beauties into your own garden so that you don’t ever have to leave your house to see them again (and get bonus points for helping out our native pollinators). 

By Ari Blatt