Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: Hollyhock lore

Posted on by royvickery |

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) can be considered to be an archetypal cottage garden plant, which features on numerous paintings and embroideries of idealised rural gardens.  But it appears to have attracted little, or no, folklore, and very few alternative names. Macmillan in his Popular Names of Flowers, Fruits, etc. (1922) lists five names, three from Somerset: billy buttons, Jacob’s ladder and rose mallow, and two unlocalised: hock-holler and holly-anders.  No other compilers of dictionaries of local plant names mention the plant.

Other names, or folklore concerning hollyhock, would be appreciated; please send it to

Responses:  1) According to Beth Steiner Jones, writing in July 2019, about Hampton Hill, Middlesex, in the 1950s, hollyhock ‘pollen was called bread, but I think that was just descriptive; I never heard of it being eaten’.

2)  Note from Dr W.M.S. Russell, of Reading, 1982: ‘I was informed several times by the late Mr William Taylor, then of Reading, Berks, between 1966 and 1978 … that his wife would never have hollyhocks in the house, because they contain earlywigs (sic. = earwigs).

Image: cultivated, Hinton St George, Somerset; July 2017.

Updated 15 October 2019.

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