Balloon Plant, Milkweed, Wild Cotton Gomphocarpus fruticosus fruticosus
Order: Gentianales. Family: Apocynaceae. Subfamily: Asclepiadoideae
Kruger National Park, LetabaDescription
Slender perebbial shrub, 1-3 m, branching mainly from the base. Stems woody near the base, densely pubescent. Leaves opposite, narrow linear to linear-lanceolate, 4-12 cm long, leathery, more or less densely pubescent and with soft white hairs on the midrib and margins, pointed and mucronate at the apex; margin often rolled under. Flowers in extra-axillary, 4-12-flowered nodding umbels. Corolla reflexed, white or cream; corona lobes attached c. 1.5 mm above the base of the staminal column, cream to green, more or less as tall as the column, laterally compressed. Follicle erect on a twisted pedicel, ovoid, inflated, up to 7 × 2.5 cm, distinctly beaked, more or less densely covered in soft bristles.
It is similar to Gomphocarpus physocarpus
but can be distinguished by the fruits, which are more spindle-shaped, ending in a distinct tapering point. When the fruit dries and splits, it releases black seeds, which have long silky hairs attached to enable them to be spread by wind.Taxonomy
The terminology for this plant is a little confusing. It is a native milkweed of South Africa and in 2001 its name was changed from Asclepias fruticosa
to Gomphocarpus fruticosus
to reflect that it is in the family of African milkweeds.Gomphocarpus
was previously in the family Asclepiadaceae, but this family is now classified as a subfamily, Asclepiadoideae, in the family Apocynaceae. Members of the Asclepiadoideae have highly specialised flowers with complicated pollination mechanisms, and include the milkweeds (Asclepias, Gomphocarpus, Xysmalobium
), carrion flowers (Stapelia, Huernia
) and curiosities like Bushman's pipe (Ceropegia
SW Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, South Africa (Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape).Habitat
Albany Thicket, Desert, Fynbos, Grassland, Indian Ocean Coastal Belt, Nama Karoo, Savanna, Succulent Karoo. Dry sandy soils in open or disturbed places, often on riverbanks and along roadsides.
Kruger National Park, Shingwedzi