As well as being morphologically very different, molecular data separate Navaea phoenicea at the base of the group containing all other species of Lavatera, Malva, and the annual species of Althaea. The next closest relative of this group is the genus Malope, together forming a clade sister to that containing Alcea (hollyhocks), perennial Althaea (marshmallows), and Kitaibela.
Navaea phoenicea is 1 of 2 shrubby Canary Island endemic species traditionally included within Lavatera, apparently descendents of independent colonisation events from the mainland. The second, Lavatera acerifolia, is most closely related to the continental western Mediterranean Lavatera maritima, both of which are now considered to be species of Malva (Malva canariensis and Malva subovata, respectively).
Navaea phoenicea has adaptations that suggest it is pollinated by birds. These include:
However, strictly nectar-feeding birds no longer exist in the Canaries, and it is possible this species is a relict of the ancient flora of Tenerife, its pollinator suffering extinction long ago.