It's the Plants, Darling

If it’s August, it must be time for …


Hairy balls! Seeing these at the Botanical Gardens almost makes up for summer's passing. Surely this is one of the funniest seedhead plants. 

Gomphocarpus  physocarpus or Asclepias physocarpus, take your pick. There are other common names too, but why bother.

Posted by on August 3, 2010 at 10:40 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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24 responses to “If it’s August, it must be time for …”

  1. anne says:

    What zones does this grow in? I am in zone 7-ish and would love to try these.

  2. eliz says:

    It is an annual for me. Not the native milkweed, and I think you have to grow it from seed. It might be African.

  3. Mathew says:

    Can you eat them? They look like little prickly pears.

  4. eliz says:

    Quite poisonous, I believe.

  5. Michelle says:

    Hahahahahahhahaaaaa! That’s awesome!

  6. John says:

    A few years ago, while serving as Director for the big flower & garden show associated with our state fair each fall, someone actually submitted a wreath made out of hairy balls. It was stunning but nothing like the look on the volunteer’s (older women) faces when someone asked what they were called and I told them,,, out loud,,, with a giggle. Someone else entered a wreath made out of pork rinds – very creative but not as naughty.

  7. meemsnyc says:

    Wow! I’ve never seen that before. It’s so interesting!

  8. susan harris says:

    I just got home from picking up my 3-mo-old kitten after HIS were removed – too funny!

    He doesn’t seem to realize he’s in pain and needs to rest; just wants to play. I have to keep him away from his playmate, but for a WEEK? No way.

  9. Erin says:

    Wow … wonder what the flowers look like? Yeah, my mind’s in the gutter.

  10. If they turn that color, you should really be taking some antibiotics or something.

  11. Now is this just a coincidence that spam for BV – bacterial vaginosis has aligned itself with the hairy balls?

    Elizabeth you may delete this too.

  12. Laura Bell says:

    Oh. My.

    Well, you just never know what’s going to pop up on Garden Rant next, do you ?

  13. Greg says:

    Google the species names everybody, but note that this is an important caterpillar food! Yet another ‘weed’ that should be left to do its job and contribute to the ecology.

  14. Ficurinia says:

    I love these too! Once, when I showed my dear friend from Spain these plants, he blushed a deep scarlet. To this day, we still laugh about that summer. He immediately asked me for a plant and then he loved to show of its seed heads to anyone who would look at them. Botanical exhibitionism at its best.

  15. I figured I could add my old Hawaiian smooth balls to this botanical exhibitionism. They are much much bigger than the hairy balls.

  16. eliz says:

    well, Chris, they come out equal, in terms of photography. But clearly, milkweed seems to be the seedpod king.

  17. Benjamin says:

    I see this in the mirror every day. I wish the monarchs would leave me alone.

  18. netty says:

    love em- have them in my yard currently

  19. Bill says:

    love em- have them in my shorts currently

  20. JT says:

    I was out yard-saleing Saturday, followed a Plant Sale sign, and found something labeled Asclepias physocarpus ‘Family Jewels’; too intriguing to pass up and besides been meaning to add to that Milkweed collection. Got home, googled it and had a laugh. Now this post on Garden Rant. Truly, can’t wait until this thing gets bigger and blooms.

  21. janet draper says:

    I USED to grow this in Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden – It is an Annual- originally I got it as Asclepias physocarpus, but it was reclassified as Gomphocarpus physocarpus– from South Africa, but intoduced into Hawaii and now a weed. I did not think it would self sow in DC – zone 7 pushing 8 – but not only has it self-sown, but the season is long enough to produce viable seed –SO– I am not growing this anymore since it has too great of a potential to become a weed since the seed is WIND disseminated.. my 2 cents.
    more info on UBC’s Botany plant of the day.

  22. We have this on display for the Festival of Butterflies at Powell Gardens near KC. It’s quite the conversation starter, but I have to confess I call it South African Milkweed because I can’t deliver the “hairy balls” name to all of the youngsters asking what it is!