Species distribution and density. Darker squares represent higher density of members of this family.


(excluding Sterculiaceae, Tiliaceae and Bombacaceae)
Hibiscus family

A family of mostly herbs or shrubs, covered with star-shaped hairs intermixed with simple hairs. The common name malva is widely used for members of the genus Pelargonium (Geraniaceae) which is not closely related to the family Malvaceae.


Occurring in tropical and subtropical areas and extending into temperate regions. It is widespread over the whole of southern Africa but the highest diversity is found in the northern provinces of South Africa.

Number of genera in the world

ca. 90

Number of species in the world

ca. 2 000

Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region



Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region


Well-known southern African genera

Abutilon, Anisodontea, Gossypium, Hibiscus, Malva, Pavonia, Radyera, Sida.

Growth forms

Mostly herbs and shrubs, rarely small trees or climbers.


Mainly in savanna, scrub and along forest edges.

Flagship species

Hibiscus praeteritus (kleinrooihibiskus [A]) with its red to pink flowers is a colourful and floriferous species. It is a small shrub growing to 1 m tall and is an excellent choice for cultivation, especially if a number of plants are grouped together in a garden, because it needs so little water. Plants flower almost throughout the year depending on prevailing weather conditions. The species is widely distributed in the frost-free areas of southern Africa, Angola and Mozambique as far north as Malawi.


Significance of the family

Cotton from mainly two Gossypium species is the most important commodity produced from this family. Many other species are used as ornamentals and even pot plants (e.g. Abutilon and Hibiscus species). Many members of the genus Hibiscus are used for teas, making paper, and their flowers are important in the Hindu religion. Okra and roselle are cultivated for their fleshy calyces that have a high concentration of vitamin C. (Photo: RDV).

Diagnostic characters

Herbs or shrubs often with star-shaped hairs . Leaves alternate , usually variously lobed, palmately veined  and with stipules. Flowers regular . Calyx 5, usually free, epicalyx mostly present . Corolla 5, free. Stamens numerous, fused with base of corolla, forming a staminal tube surrounding the style . Anthers free. Ovary superior , 5-locular. Style branched at apex . Fruit dry, capsules dehiscent or splitting into mericarps .

Did you know?

With the automated separation of seeds from fibres and the mechanisation of textile production during the Industrial Revolution, cotton became more popular than flax and wool textiles.