Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mystery solved

Just for fun last fall, I collected a bunch of seed from various unidentified plants around the neighbourhood (here and here) and wintersowed them with the idea of eventually identifying them when they flowered.

The first ID of the season is Velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrastii), a member of the mallow family. As you might have guessed, the plant has velvety leaves, large and heart-shaped, alternate, growing from a single (velvety) stalk. They can grow very tall (up to 7 feet), but thankfully mine have remained a manageable 2½ feet. They're still completely out of proportion for the scale of my balcony, but the tactile quality of the plant means they'll be sticking around until the end of the season.

Velvety, palm-sized leaf.

Two velvetleaf plants, one bigger, one smaller.

The cool-looking "king's crown" seed pods are what motivated me to collect the seeds. I had a 20% germination rate with mine, but germination can be erratic, and the seeds can persist for a very long time in the soil.

Dry velvetleaf seed pods
Dried velvetleaf seed pods. By Boby Dimitrov on flickr.
According to Wikipedia, an alternate name for Velvetleaf is China Jute, hinting at the useful quality of the plant's fibres. Portions of the plant are also edible; I may give this a go later on in the season. It is, however, considered a weed in this part of the world.

Here's some more useful information about the plant from the Illinois Wildflowers site..

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