Difference between Marshmallow and Hollyhock

(Question)

What is the difference between marshmallow and hollyhock? I found the pink flowering plant (photo attached), which I think may be a marshmallow, but I’m not sure. Is it a marshmallow or a hollyhock and how can one tell the difference? Also, I know that marshmallow is used an herb. Is hollyhock also edible?

 

(Answer)

A quick glance at both hollyhock (Alcea sp.) and Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and it is easy to see how they can be mistaken for each other. Both plants belong to the same family of Malvaceae, and so they do share many common characteristics. The flower is the most obvious similarity. Resembling a hibiscus flower, the marshmallow is very showy in shades of pink, red and white. The flower of the hollyhock is also very pretty and in similar shades. Both plants can be annuals, biennials or perennials, although the marshmallow is more often seen as a shrub in gardens while the hollyhock is typically a biennial with a stalk of flowers during its second year.

Marshmallow is an herbaceous perennial and grows to a height of 2-5 feet with soft, velvety, and irregularly serrated leaves. Its flowers form clusters at leaf axil. Whereas the herbaceous hollyhock is a biennial or short-lived perennial that becomes 4-8′ tall. The stout central stem is unbranched or sparingly branched. The leaves of hollyhocks are palmately lobed (with 3-7 blunt lobes each) and crenate along their margins. From the picture the plant in question appears to be a marsh mallow.

Hollyhocks have many of the same medicinal qualities as wild marshmallow and can be substituted as such. Hollyhock, is completely edible – root, leaves and blossoms. It’s a direct relation to Marshmallow and can be used interchangeably for that herb; the primary exception being that Hollyhocks have woodier and tougher roots, and are less palatable for eating purposes than Marshmallow’s softer roots.