Once upon a time while planting my apartment balcony garden, a very strange and unknown plant appeared in one of my twenty-six planters. Its seed that grew, likely from the potting mix was so odd that I just had to let it prosper along with whatever I originally planted there.
Well, it certainly is odd to people entering the apartment lobby below my balcony. Looking up, it must look like the proverbial ‘Jack’s Beanstalk’ as it inches itself sky-ward to the balcony above mine. Its only July but the ‘Thing’ is now five feet tall and still growing!
Keep in mind that all my planters are on a shelf three feet above the floor to clear the railing to reach the sun. This creates the illusion that the ‘Thing’ is much taller than it really is from the ground looking up.
The ‘Thing’ has huge heart-shaped leaves that are much bigger than a man’s hand! It is amazing to watch these leaves droop like they are dying as soon as the sun goes down. The next morning they revive with the sun. Is it normal, or is it because the plant can’t develop a large root system in a container? The bottom-most leaf will soon die and fall off followed by another a week later and so on during the summer.
Small yellow flowers appear next. These flowers quickly develop into dozens of ‘poppy’ shaped seed pods that remind me of a miniature sunflower.
Do not, and I repeat do not ever touch the stalk of this ‘Thing’. The smell it leaves on your hand is unlike any odor you can imagine. I guarantee you will run for the nearest sink and bar of soap if you do!
Everyone asks “what the heck is that thing” but so far no one can tell me what it is. The Bushwhacker and I have found only one spot where there is a patch of them growing wild in a ditch. They of course are on a ‘No Exit’ road west of Port Hope. Where did they come from?
If any of our readers have any idea what the ‘The Thing’ is please leave its name in the ‘Leave a Reply/comment’ section of this post. Thanks.
What is This Thing – Update September 7 2016
This is an update on this posting. This ‘thing’ or ‘weed from Hades’ as I now call it, is officially called Asian Velvetleaf. This refers of course to its large, soft velvety valentine-shaped leaves.
While I could not find any name for it, I now know that it has several. Velvet Weed, Button Weed, Butterprint, Pie Maker, Indian Mallow or Chinese Jute. First grown in Asia, this crop turned out to be a commercial failure for whatever it was they intended to use it for. It was introduced to North America before 1750 as a possible rope substitute for the shipping industry.
Amazingly, the un-ripe seeds are edible raw, tasting much like sunflower seeds, and each plant can produce thousands of seeds! Ripe seeds must be leached until they are no longer bitter. They can be ground into a flour and eaten this way. The seeds are said to be viable for up to sixty years!
The tough stalks have been used in Asia as a fiber source (now replaced by artificial fibers) for rope, bags, course cloth, fishing nets, paper stock and even for caulking boats. Oh yeah, even though the leaves are an irritant, they can be used for toilet paper!
Note: The Ranger does not recommend any of the previous uses even though he has never tried any of them!
Okay, so I can hear you saying “so why do you call them a ‘weed from Hades’? Remember purple loosestrife, cow parsnip, wild parsnip, giant hogweed and dog-strangling vine? These and a few other plants looked quite colorful and beautiful in most of our waterways and even in our gardens for years!
The first thing to know is that this plant is listed in Canada as a noxious weed and invasive all over North America and many other countries. Asian Velvetleaf’s habitat especially in Southern Ontario is increasing in corn, soybeans and other annual tilled crops and waste spaces. Like the Ranger’s balcony?
This weed prefers rich loamy soil and grows six to seven feet high. The fragrant yellow flowers look much like a small hibiscus (a relative) and are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects. This plant also likes to play ‘peek-abo’. The plant may be hidden by the canopy of a crop one week only to appear a week or so later.
It is known to be most detrimental to corn as it is a very competitive plant that can steal nutrients and water from crops. Decreases of up to 30% in crop yields have been reported and costs of millions dollars a year if not controlled by pre-emergent herbicides.
Thanks to the Bushwhacker and the Mrs. for solving this five year old poser. Noticing a field of this plant growing wild in a field at a local nursery recently, they were informed what it was. When the nursery staff were asked why they did not get rid of it they replied that the cost of spraying the field for Velvetleaf would cost more than the original crop there was worth.
Disposal: Never purchase, trade or grow in your garden. Do not burn or compost!
Carefully remove flower heads and place in a black plastic bag, be careful not to drop any seeds. Seal bag tightly and leave in direct sunlight for a couple of weeks.