Manzanilla (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)
Mexican Apple (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is the tropical fruit gardener’s respite from the aching nostalgia of traditional apple orchards. It is native to the high elevation cloud forests of Mexico and Colombia, and can be found in subtropical Texas and Florida. This shrubby perennial can be the apple of your inner forager’s eye, with year-round harvests of bright red flowers and bushels of tender, green leaves. You may recognize the flowers for its trademark similarities to more commonly familiar plants in the hibiscus family. Towards the end of the summer, flowers will give way to red, marble-sized fruits that boast a light tanginess and mealy texture that are similar to apples.
Grow Mexican Apple for an easygoing, edible plant with a tropical twist. Its native cloud forest habitats are a good reminder that this low-growing plant thrives in part-shade in warm growing zones, but appreciates more moderate sun exposure in cooler zones. Eat the flowers raw, or dry and store them for teas and tisanes. Harvest bundles of Mexican Apple leaves before winter for a fuzzy, tender alternative to spinach.