The perenial weed, Malva parviflora (small mallow), is a very strong, healthy grower, and does equally well in summer and winter. It usually reaches about 50cm high, but I’ve found them growing much taller on occasion.
It originates in Europe and is now a cosmopolitan weed in South Africa – that is, found in all appropriate habitats.
Small mallow has tough, woody stems, and the leaves are rather large and similar in appearance to those of a geranium. But it is not easily confused with other weeds.
The seeds are set on the stems in disc-shaped capsules containing nine to 11 seeds each.
It is extremely hard-seeded. Dropped seeds will germinate sporadically over many years. They can even survive fumigation with methyl bromide. In fact, this pesticide actually breaks down the hard-seededness, causing mass germination!
The seeds pass through the digestive tract of animals and are thus often introduced into ‘new’ lands via manure.
Small mallow, which is a herb, is often seen growing around cattle kraals and waste dumps, where it is eaten by livestock when they are particularly hungry. It can be toxic to cattle.
Chop them all out!
This cannot be over-emphasised. Even a few plants left in the land after manuring will spread. Once the weed is established, it will take years of hand- weeding in every subsequent crop to get rid of this scourge.
So when you find Malva in your land, chop out every single plant. If it has set seed, remove it from the land and burn it when dry. Otherwise, it can be left where it stood. But it’s best not to take a chance. This woody plant is tough, and can use its reserves to nurture the seeds into maturity.
Strong tap root
The weed has a strong tap root and is not easily pulled out. This root system enables the weed to survive very harsh conditions.
If you are at the stage where there is a fairly large population of weeds on the land, the most economical way to remove the plants is by pulling them out when they are still very young – about 20cm tall.
This should be done just after an irrigation, as moist ground makes them easier to extract. As they will not have flowered by this stage, they can be left on the surface.
I know of more than one farmer who had to abandon a land because he had allowed Malva to get a foothold and could not afford the labour to keep removing the weeds by hand from every crop he planted.
Be warned, or be sorry.