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A picture of a Hairy Balls

Hairy Balls

Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Also known as

Balloon Plant, Swan Plant, Goose Plant, Balloon Cotton Bush, Giant Swan Milkweed, Family Jewels, Oscar, Cotton-Bush, Bladderbush, Narrow-Leaf Cottonbush, Wild Cotton

Asclepias physocarpa, detail by Tauʻolunga (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Full Sun
Easy care
Light watering


RHS hardiness


Minimum temperature

Expected size








5 years to reach maturity


  • spring
  • summer
  • autumn
  • winter

This plant has a mild fragrance

More images of Hairy Balls

A photo of Hairy Balls
A photo of Hairy Balls
A photo of Hairy Balls
A photo of Hairy Balls

Hairy Balls Overview

Gomphocarpus physocarpus is a deciduous subshrub capable of reaching over 2m in height. Also known as Balloon Plant or Balloon Milkweed, this plant is rarely cultivated, but is found in some indigenous gardens in southeast Africa. They are often grown as annual ornamentals in more temperate regions or to add interest to cut flower bouquets. Be aware though: because of its ease of spreading seeds by wind dispersal, it can infest areas rapidly and some consider it invasive. The cut flower industry use both the fruit and linear to lance-shaped foliage in floral arrangements. Flowers are small, delicate and white with pink-purple shading, leading onto large, bulbous and bristly seed pods, often in pairs. This species is a food source for certain insects including the monarch butterfly and caterpillars of the Danaus genus. For optimal growth plant in sandy, well-drained soil and full sunlight.

Common problems with Hairy Balls

Generally problem-free.

    How to harvest Hairy Balls

    The local cut flower industry use the strange balloon shape fruit. Pick when the fruit has reached a fair size but is still green.

    How to propagate Hairy Balls


    Sow seed as soon as ripe and keep moist.


    Tip cuttings or seed in spring.

    Special features of Hairy Balls

    Attracts useful insects

    African Monarg butterfly larvae use it as host plant.

    Attracts butterflies

    Particularly popular with insects, this plant will attract butterflies to the garden!

    Attractive flowers


    Other uses of Hairy Balls

    Grown for their flowers

    Cut Flowers

    Fruit, seedpods and foliage are used in the cut flower industry.

    Food Plant

    Important food plant for the larvae of the Monarch butterflies


    Indigenous Perennials | Bees

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