Visitation is restricted at The Narrows, a steep, rocky, xeric hardwood forest located high above the New River on Peter's Mountain. It is the site of all the existing Peter's Mountain mallow plants in the world.
Mallows are characterized by their lobed leaves and a sticky juice in their leaves, stems and roots. The Peter's Mountain mallow has large pink flowers, grows 3-4 feet tall and has short branches and leaves resembling a maple. This perennial plant can produce as many as 15-20 two-inch blooms during its flowering season in July and August.
The Peter's Mountain mallow (Iliamna corei) is related to hollyhock and okra, which are also members of the mallow family. Earl Core, a West Virginia botanist, first discovered this mallow in 1927. Later it was named in his honor.
Between 1927 and 1991, the mallow population here declined from 50 plants to just 3. While the exact reason for this near-extinction is uncertain, research has determined that the plant's hard seeds need fire to break open the seed coat and let water in. This popcorn-like effect spurs the seeds to germinate.
Fire also destroys competing vegetation that shades and crowds out the light-loving mallows. A prescribed burning program begun in 1992 has resulted in the partial recovery of the Peter's Mountain mallow from near extinction.
The mallow population can fluctuate greatly. While some 300 seedlings may sprout after a burn, the average population appears to have leveled off at about 50 to 70 plants (about the same as when the plant was discovered in 1927).
In the past, the mallow plant's demise was hastened inadvertently by those individuals who were most interested in it. Due to this mallow's status as critically endangered, human impact must be minimized.