Balloon Milkweed (Asclepias physocarpa)

Balloon Milkweed

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Conservation status
Not Evaluated
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Unranked: Angiosperms
Unranked: Eudicots
Unranked: Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Apocynaceae
Subfamily: Asclepiadoideae
Genus: Asclepias
Species: A. physocarpa
Binomial name
Asclepias physocarpa
(E.Mey.) Schlechter
Multinational names
Afrikaans: Balmelkbossie / Balbossie / Wilde Kapok
Xhosa: uSingalwesalukazi
Zulu: uMbababa / uMbemiso / uMangwazane / uMqumnqwewe / uPhuphuma / uMsingalwesalukazi

Identification. The Balloon Milkweed (Asclepias physocarpa) is a shrub that grows to 1.5 m in height. Flowers are white with dull purple markings. One fruit from each cluster of flowers develop into an inflated, round follicle with sparse stiff hairs covering it. The branches are pale yellowish green and hollow. The leaves are light green and narrowly oblong to lance-shaped.

Habitat. The Balloon Milkweed is typically found at an altitude of 0 to 4,212 meters. It grows along the edges of grassland and bushveld. It is often found along roadsides and in disturbed areas.

Cultivating. The Balloon Milkweed may be cultivated by dividing the root ball, from leaf cuttings or from seed. Plant the seed outdoors in autumn. Seeds should be spaced 90 – 120 cm apart. The Balloon Milkweed prefers direct sunshine but will do well with partial sunshine. Soil should have a pH of 5.6 to 6.

Please take note that all parts of this plant are toxic when ingested. Care should be taken when handling them. Preferably plant them where small children cannot reach them. The white milky sap may cause eye damage.

General. The Balloon Milkweed is also known as the Balloonplant, Balloon Plant, Balloon Wild Cotton, Hairy Balls, Bindweed, Family Jewels Milkweed and Swan Plant.

The Balloon Milkweed is a food source for the caterpillars of Danaus butterflies and is a specific Monarch Butterfly food and habitat plant. All of the milkweeds are named for a milky white sap in the plant’s stem and leaves. After the Monarch caterpillar has metamorphosed into a butterfly, the alkaloids from the sap they ingested from the plant are retained in the butterfly, making it unpalatable to predators.

It is also popular in traditional medicine to cure various ailments.

South African Distribution. The Balloon Milkweed is widespread in South Africa at altitudes below 900 m. It would, however, appear to be absent from the dry Northern Cape province.

Port Elizabeth Area. The Balloon Milkweed may be found in the entire Baakens Valley, Shark River (also known as Happy Valley), Swartkops River, Schoenmakerskop and Driftsands.

Conservation Status – NE (Not Evaluated)1. This species faces no major threats and it is widespread.

Balloon Milkweed
  1. IUCN Redlist – Search result for Balloon Milkweed