Book Review of How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico by Rudolfo Anaya, Nasario Garcia, Nicolas Otero

by DerdriuMarriner

Hollyhocks abound throughout New Mexico’s summer and fall. But they are not native to the Americas. They inspire a charming creation story in “How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico.”

The flowering plant known as the hollyhock (Alcea spp) does not have anything to do with modern meanings of the words holly (Ilex spp) and hock. It contrastingly has everything to do with:
• being holy;
• numbering among the mauve-colored members of the mallow family Malvaceae.
Its etymology is connected with the Middle English term holihoc, whose origins appear to trace back to the fifteenth century.

Linguists know of holi as an alternate spelling of today’s holy. They link hoc with the Old English term of the fifth to twelfth centuries for marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis). The Eurasian herbaceous native’s presence indeed may result from holy happenings and individuals in “How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico.”




Two New Mexico icons, Georgia O'Keefee and hollyhocks, come together:

"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur 1930" by one of New Mexico's most famous resident artists, Georgia O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986)
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, north central New Mexico
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, north central New Mexico


Hollyhocks belong in the same taxonomic family as:

  • Cacao;
  • Cotton;
  • Okra.

They can be recognized by:

  • Alternate, hairy, lobed, veined leaves;
  • Bright flowers with five petals and five sepals each;
  • Mucous-filled, wand-like stems.

They claim healthily perennial lifespans when:

  • Cultivated in sunny, warm, wind-sheltered locations;
  • Distanced respectively 18 inches (45.72 centimeters) and 3 feet (0.92 meters) within and between rows;
  • Grown in moist, well-drained soils with pH levels of 6.0 – 8.0;
  • Propagated from garden-dropped seeds;
  • Trimmed to the base after flowers fade.

They exist throughout the United States of America because of inter-continental introductions from their Asian and European homelands. One such injection goes back over 2,000 years ago, thanks to:

  • An irate king;
  • A near-sighted angel.


In "How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico," because of a near-sighted angel's confusion of New Mexico for Egypt, the Holy Family journey through the spectacular landscape of New Mexico's white sand dunes. ~

"White sands, moon & clouds": White Sands National Monument
south central New Mexico
south central New Mexico


January 14 commemorates the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. It evokes images of Jesus (6 B.C. – A.D. 29), Joseph (died July 20, A.D. 18?), and Mary (18 B.C.? – A.D. 41?) fleeing Bethlehem after:

  • Visits by Wise Men Balthazar, Casper, and Melchior;
  • Warnings of royal wrath.

But what happens if near-sighted savior angel Sueño (Sleep) confuses the turn for New Mexico as that for Egypt? The mistake leads to:

  • Consuming beans, chile, squashes under cottonwood trees;
  • Experiencing Thanksgiving;
  • Gathering herbal remedies;
  • Following the Rio Grande to Belen, Pueblo sites, and White Sands;
  • Harvesting piñones (pine nuts);
  • Observing dances.

The Holy Trio make a ladder into heaven. Hollyhocks surface from:

  • Joseph’s shepherd staff anchored at the base;
  • Summer rains.


Because of Sueño's near-sightedness, the Holy Family take a wrong turn in their Flight into Egypt, ending up in New Mexico's enchanting landscape, including iconic cottonwood trees:

"Cottonwoods 1952" by Georgia O'Keefe
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico



Rio Grande Books appears as an imprint of LPD Press in Los Ranchos de ABQ, New Mexico, since 2006. The book line centers upon regional art, culture, and history within the southwestern United States of America. The list of publications for 2012 includes How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico in bilingual format.  The charming story looks to local folklore to explain the pervasive existence of the summer to fall-blooming herbs flourishing outside native homelands westward -- across the vast Pacific Ocean -- in Asia and Europe. It merges the Spanish culture-influenced talents of:

  • Rudolfo Anaya, as author of the English storyline;
  • Nasario García, as interpreter of the Spanish text;
  • Nicolás Otero, as painter of the santero-inspired artwork.


How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico by Rudolfo Anaya ~ illustrated by Nicolás Otero

A beautiful, fanciful folk tale explains the beautiful flowers that can be seen in all parts of the Southwest in the summer and fall.
Rudolfo Anaya stories



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Joseph's floral epiphanies include flowers blooming from his staff during marriage petition to high priest according to apocryphal sources and hollyhocks surfacing from ladder to Heaven anchored at base by his staff in "How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico":

Latin American portrayal of St. Joseph as a young man
Oratory of the Hospital Universitario Austral, Pilar Partido, northern Greater Buenos Aires, southeastern Argentina
Oratory of the Hospital Universitario Austral, Pilar Partido, northern Greater Buenos Aires, southeastern Argentina

Sources Consulted


Anaya, Rudolfo. 2012. How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico. Illustrated by Nicolás Otero. Translated into Spanish by Nasario García. Rio Grande Books.

"The Artist: About Nicolás Otero." Nick Otero Retrieved December 20, 2014.

  • Available at:

Nasario Garcia, Retrieved December 20, 2014.



the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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The beauty of wildflowers is celebrated through legends such as "How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico."
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Hollyhocks: Photo Jigsaw Puzzle

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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