Gomphocarpus physocarpus
Common Name: balloon plant
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Apocynaceae
Native Range: Southeastern Africa
Zone: 8 to 10
Height: 4.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to August
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Annual
Flower: Insignificant
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Deer, Drought

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 8-10. Invasive self-seeder in tropical areas (it has naturalized as a pasture weed in Hawaii), but not in St. Louis where it is grown as an annual. Best in well-drained soils in full sun. Plants are drought tolerant. Seed may be started indoors in pots 6-8 weeks before last spring frost date.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Balloon plant is native to southeast Africa. It is an upright shrubby perennial that typically grows to 4-6' tall on stems clad with lanceolate green leaves (to 4" long). This milkweed family member is perhaps best noted for its soft, spherical, balloon-like, spiny, lime-green seed pods. Pods ripen to tan before splitting open in fall to release large numbers of silky-haired seeds to the wind. White flowers in drooping clusters are not particularly showy. Genus name from Greek means club (gomphos) and fruit (karpos). Specific epithet from Greek means bladder (physo) and fruit (karpos). This plant is commonly sold in commerce by its original name of Asclepias physocarpus.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Unique seed pods add interest to garden areas. Stems with seed pods make excellent additions to dried flower arrangements.