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Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Gomphocarpus physocarpus
Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Continuing with the series on African plants, today's photograph is courtesy once more of Vicki aka Vicki's Pics@Flickr (original 1 | original 2 | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Many thanks.

Posted to Flickr as Asclepias fruticosa, it seems like these plants were misidentified in the park where Vicki took the photographs in two different ways. The first was a relatively minor error. I recalled from this plant identification thread on the UBC BG Forums earlier this year that the convention today is for African milkweeds to be placed in the genus Gomphocarpus, while American milkweeds (American in the sense of the New World) remain in the well-known genus Asclepias. Examining photographs of Gomphocarpus fruticosus, though, pointed out a mismatch – the fruits of Gomphocarpus fruticosus are tapered. Fortunately, Weeds Australia (and the similar plant on the UBC BG Forums thread above) suggested what I think is the proper identification, Gomphocarpus physocarpus, or, commonly, balloon cottonbush, bladderbush, wild cotton or paina-de-sada. Of course, as often needs to be said with common names, these names are misleading. This species does not produce the cotton of textile use, but is so named because of the cottony appearance of the pappus attached to the seeds.

Native to Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, Gomphocarpus physocarpus has naturalized elsewhere in the tropics, to the point where it is considered invasive in Hawaii, Norfolk Island, and New Caledonia (source: Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk). Both the Western Australian Flora and the New South Wales Flora Online provide detailed factsheets about this species: Gomphocarpus physocarpus via FloraBase and Gomphocarpus physocarpus via PlantNET.


Great photos both! The detail is amazing. Thanks, as always, for the info Daniel!!

Amazing. As I watched the photo emerge in sections, I thought it sort of looked like an underwater cactus. Then to my surprise, there was anothe picture of flowers. My goodness, what a shock it was to read about what they really were. So, my friend, is it the same plant or two different species or what? I'm amazed and confused.

The fruit and flower are, as always, well worth the time to view.

1) Is it Apocynacea, or Apocyanacea?

2) So pappus is the word to describe that tuft that provides the loft to a seed when the wind is right. I checked the etymology, and it comes from the Latin for a greybearded old man or grandfather. How evocative of a tousleheaded elder the pappus is!

Cool post and comments! It's interesting to compare the flowers and the fruit into which they develop.

Thanks for your Botany Photo of the Day. I've just recently started receiving the photo of the day in my inbox. Being a garden writer, and an amateur photographer, I have a large interest in the subject matter of BPoD. Might I find more information about the camera(s) used by those who submit their photographs?

Happy Thanksgiving there too. :)

Thank you, Daniel, for finding the proper identification. I have fixed it on the pictures. Thanks also for featuring my photos again! It is always so exciting to wake up in the morning and find that one or more of my pictures has been featured on such a great site.

Thanks also for the nice comments everyone! :)

Gomphocarpus physocarpus - Z9 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths
Gomphocarpus physocarpus - Z9-10 - A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Brickell, Cole, Zuk

to jonathan,
if you are referring to the family of this species, it should be Apocynaceae according to
Angiosperm Phylogeny Website

anyway, the flower is very interesting. just wondering what will its natural pollinator be.

the pictures are so fine
i do so enjoy the folk names
and all the links that lead
me around the world

happy thanks giveing
from america to the rest
of this wonderful world

Jonathan, to answer #1, it's Apocynaceae; from the Greek "away" (apo-) and "dog" (kynos, latinized to cynos--also in Cynosurus [dogtail] and Cynoglossum [houndstongue] among others) with the standard family-level -aceae on the end. Apparently some plants in the genus Apocynum, or dogbane, were used to kill wild dogs in earlier times. I think the family also contains wolfsbane, as well as the toxic-to-dogs periwinkle and oleander. One of a few families sporting milky sap (like the recently featured Euphorbiaceae).

I work at a wholesale greenhouse in Wisconsin and we grow this in our Border Gem program as an annual. We call it Asclepias physocarpus 'Oscar'. It has suddenly become a very popular plant. It is very easy to grow. I put it in my garden this summer and it reached 6 feet in height. The monarch caterpillars loved it and munched on it all summer. They defoliated the plants but it was hardly hurt and divided and became more branched and I harvested many of the hairy balls this fall. A great oranamental that I am putting on wreaths and swags for Christmas decorations. Dried great and kept their lovely green color that is flushed with maroon. Try it in your garden next year!!! Very fun.

and the common name at least around these parts is 'family jewels'...
it's wonderful for wreaths and such.

In NZ we call it Swan Plant, as the seed pods picked with their stems on do look remarkably like swans - and they float, too! Small children love them. It is specifically grown in NZ to feed the Monarch Butterflies, which are only recent arrivals here so there are no native plants that will support them.


Thanks for the assistance with the etymology. Cynos is also undoubtedly the root for 'canine', where the hard 'c' was retained.

Another interesting word that shares the etymologic root is cynosure (which means something that attracts attention or something that serves as a guide or directs in modern English). It apparently comes from the Greek for the constellation Ursa Minor, which contains Polaris, the North Star. It was known in ancient Greece as the 'Dog's Tail' (Kynosoura) constellation. I wonder whether this name came from the human use of hunting dogs, whose tail will go up (as for a pointer), to show where small game is concealed, and how the Little Dipper (as a hunting dog) points to the North Star for Orion, the Hunter.

How interesting languages are.

The flowers look almost like the heads of bats to me. Wonderful photos and post. :)

I LIKED THE ASTRONOMICAL ASIDE about cynosure. Of course cynic is also the same word these dogs of philosophers. But they dont deserve such a bad name that should have been reserved for the sophists.
The only trouble though is that Ursa is bear and canis is dog.

I love quirky looking plants and saw this one a few weeks ago, for the very first time, planted on either side of a gate, to a suburban house. I took photographs on my mobile, picked up some of the deflated, old balloons from the ground, and not one Gardening Centre could identify it, although several of the propriertors did shriek in horror and begged me to keep it in the bag. Finally, one NZ worker identified it as the Swan Plant and another went as far to identify it as Gomphocarpus Fruticosus, as she'd written about it in an assignment. I have some of the seeds in a few pots, hoping they'll germinate. It's a stunning plant, and one I will control and not allow to run rampant as it seems to raise concerns in my area of Perth, Western Australia.

Hi, I know this is many years later, but I have an amusing story about this plant. We live in northern Peru and my husband came across this plant in a neighboring town. He brought home the pod and since it was Christmas we hung it from the light chain with a red ribbon above. Sitting at the table one evening we heard a loud pop. The pod opened and rained seeds down upon us. What fun!

This particular plant(Gomphocarpus physocarpus e Mey)is actually different from the swan plant. The seed pods of this are round, as in the picture, not swan shaped or tapered. We have saved the seeds and will try to grow it. I'm most interested to see the flowers and also to have a plant that attracts Monarch butterflies.

By the way, the photo is excellent. Nice details that my little SONY steady shot couldn't possibly pick up.

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