The hollyhocks comprise about 60 species of flowering plants in the genus Alcea (Ál-ce-a) in the mallow family Malvaceae, native to southwest and central Asia. They are biennial or short-lived perennial plants growing to 3.5 m tall, with broad, rounded, palmately lobed leaves and numerous flowers, pink or yellow in the wild species, on the erect central stem.
Hollyhocks are popular garden ornamental plants, cultivars selected, particularly from A. rosea. The flowers have been selected for variations in colour, with dark purple, red and white-flowered plants available in addition to the colours found in wild plants.
Hollyhocks are very drought resistant, and do well in full sun locations that might be too hot or dry for other plants. They produce large, flat coin-shaped seeds (1/2" diameter) that seem to grow easily wherever they drop. While an individual plant might only live a handful of years, by that time chances are good it will leave plenty of descendants. They have very long taproots which make transplanting difficult.
A stylized, symmetrical hollyhock is the seal of the Tokugawa family in Japan, and is often used as a reference to the era in Japan's history where that family ruled the country. Also known is the character 'Aoi no Ue' (or 'Awoi no Uye' 葵上, 'Lady Hollyhock') from The Tale of Genji.
In the Japanese graphic novels Lone Wolf and Cub the Hollyhock is the seal worn by Ogami Itto, the protagonist of the series, whilst he is in service to the shogun.