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The Wildebeest's guide to South Africa


Afrikaans name: Balbossie

Milkweed otherwise known as Balloon Plant


Photo © Steven Herbert

Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Milkweed is called by many other names (some of which can't be mentioned here). Some of the other names are Balloon Milkweed, Hairy Balls and Balloon Wild Cotton.

It is a scraggly looking bush up to 2 metres tall. If it wasn't for the balloon-like 'fruits' then the plant would probably get overlooked. It does, however, get a pretty flower. The flowers are white with a pale pink centre. It seems that wasps are the main pollinators. The seeds have a hairy tuft which aids in their dispersal by wind.

Milkweed is found over most of South Africa. It is normally found in coastal and lower altitude regions. It thrives in disturbed areas such as roadsides as well as in grassland and bushveld. Despite it being so common you may be surprised that it is not indigenous to South Africa. It was introduced from parts of tropical Africa.

Milkweed gives off a milky fluid when damaged which gives rise to its common name. This latex is poisonous and should not be swallowed so do not let your children or livestock near it. This plant is good for attracting butterflies to your garden but please do be aware of its danger to kids.

Balloon Plant

Photo © Steven Herbert


References and further reading

List of South African Plants

List of South African Plants

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