In Bloom at Monticello: Scarlet Pentapetes
If you have visited Monticello recently, you may have enjoyed the vibrant Scarlet Pentapetes that has been flowering near by the winding walk. Jefferson sowed seed of this tender annual along his flower border in 1811, calling it “Scarlet Mallow.” He likely received seed from Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon, who noted the flower in his book, The American Gardener’s Calendar, 1806.
Scarlet Pentapetes (Pentapetes phoenicea), a member of the chocolate family, is rarely cultivated in America. This unusual plant of the Old World Tropics blossoms with rich scarlet, mallow like blooms that open at noon and close at dawn, accented by olive green foliage with serrated edges. Growing between three to five feet, the Scarlet Pentapetes prefers full sun to light shade and well-drained garden loam.
The Shop at Monticello offers seeds that are a representation of the species Scarlet Pentapetes with its tropical red blossom. Direct sow or transplant to a sunny location after the last frost and they will grow up to five feet. It makes a handsome accent plant in the garden.
Peggy Cornett, Curator of Plants, has worked at Monticello since 1983. She graduated from The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (English and botany) and the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware. Peggy is a writer, published author, and frequent lecturer specializing in the history of gardens and plants. She edits Magnolia, the publication of the Southern Garden History Society.