Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

It is a perennial shrub native to parts of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona in the U.S.; and Sonora and Baja California in Northwest Mexico. It grows well in alkaline soil, both sandy or clay, usually in the company of creosote bush scrub and desert chaparral habitats, from 150–2,500 metres (490–8,200 ft) in elevation. It is found in the Mojave Desert, Great Basin deserts, and Sonoran Desert ecoregions.

The Sphaeralcea ambigua plant grows to 3 feet (0.91 m) in height, and spreads to 2–3 feet (0.61–0.91 m) in width. The leaves (see lower left image) are fuzzy with white hairs on both sides, lobed, palmately veined, and on long stems, the number of which increase with age. The fruit is a brown capsule containing numerous seeds, first quite spherical as implied by the genus name, later flattening to a disk (see top left image). The flowers are bowl-shaped, 5-petaled, apricot to orange in color, and bloom in the spring.

The plant was used by members of the Shoshoni tribe of Native Americans as a food source and medicinal plant.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.