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Hort in the Home Landscape

A blog devoted to sharing timely horticulture topics and answering the questions of gardeners and homeowners.
 Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Balloon Plant

Plant of the week!

I came across this week's plant as I was preparing for a tree walk on the Highland Community College campus yesterday. I'll start by saying this is probably the most interestingly named plant I've ever blogged about.

The scientific name of this unique plant is Gomphocarpus physocarpus, but the common names are numerous: balloon plant, swan plant, cotton bush, and probably the most interesting- hairy balls.

This drought tolerant shrub, native to Southeastern Africa, gets it's interesting names due to the soft, spherical, balloon-like, spiny, lime-green seed pods that are produced. These pods will then open up and release large numbers of silky haired seeds similar to what you would see on the common milkweed plant.

Formally known as Asclepias physocarpus, this plant has typical milkweed family flowers that are white, and drooping, blooming in late summer. The plant itself grows to 4-6 feet tall, and does very well in full sun.

According to the Missouri Botanic Garden site, balloon plant is hardy to zones 8-10, so we would treat this as an annual in Illinois. Seeds could be collected and started indoors every year. In tropical areas this plant is an invasive self seeder, so its something that you may want to keep an eye on in the garden. A very cool plant though, and one that would be fun for a children's garden! And since it's a milkweed, it's also a host plant for the monarch butterfly!

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