Native throughout arid regions of the North American west, scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea, Malvaceae) can be found inhabiting deserts, prairies, scrublands, and pinyon-juniper woodlands. This sun-loving perennial is highly tolerant to both drought and salinity, making it well-adapted to these xeric environments.
The above-ground parts of this plant arise from a deep, woody taproot that can reach three feet (nearly 1 m) in length. Early in the spring it begins to grow hairy shoots that reach only 4-16 inches (10-40 cm) in height. The leaves are palmately lobed, deeply incised, and fuzzy, having a whitish-green appearance. Dark orange, five-parted flowers appear from late spring through mid-summer. After pollination they develop into dry fruit bearing hard seeds.
Scarlet globemallow is an important forage plant for a number of large mammals including wildlife like pronghorn, bighorn sheep, bison, and prairie dogs as well as domesticated livestock. Although it’s not the most palatable plant to eat, it’s better than nothing when grasses are sparse.