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.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!


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