Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Gomphocarpus physocarpus, commonly known as hairy balls, balloonplant, balloon cotton-bush, bishop's balls, nailhead, or swan plant, is a species of dogbane. The plant is native to southeast Africa, but it has been widely naturalized. It is often used as an ornamental plant.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus
Asclepias physocarpa2.jpg
Photo of balloonplant with capsules
Gomphocarpus physocarpus swan plant.jpg
Detail photo of balloonplant capsules
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Apocynaceae
Genus: Gomphocarpus
G. physocarpus
Binomial name
Gomphocarpus physocarpus
  • Asclepias brasiliensis (E.Fourn.) Schltr.
  • Asclepias physocarpa (E.Mey.) Schltr.
  • Gomphocarpus brasiliensis E.Fourn.


Monarch butterfly caterpillars feeding on Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Gomphocarpus physocarpus is an undershrub perennial herb, that can grow to over six feet. The plant blooms in warm months. It grows on roadside banks, at elevations of 2800 to 5000 feet above sea level. The plant prefers moderate moisture, as well as sandy and well-drained soil and full sun.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus is traditionally used to produce ointments for the treatment of warts and the seeds are used in rituals. The leaves and stems produce milky latex that is toxic, yet it has never been described in detail particularly with regards to the anatomy of lactiferous cells.[2]

The flowers are small, with white hoods and about 1 cm across. The follicle is a pale green, and in shape an inflated spheroid. It is covered with rough hairs. It reaches three inches in diameter. The leaves are light green, linear to lanceolate and 3 to 4 inches long, 1.2 cm broad. The brown seeds have silky tufts.[3][4]

This plant will readily hybridize with Gomphocarpus fruticosus creating intermediate forms.[5]


Gomphocarpus physocarpus is a food of the caterpillars of Danaus butterflies, including the monarch butterfly.


  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species".
  2. ^ Munsamy, A., & Naidoo, Y. (2017). Characterisation of the indumentum and the laticifers in the leaves and stems of Gomphocarpus physocarpus (Apocynaceae). South African Journal of Botany, 109, 356–357. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sajb.2017.01.134
  3. ^ Llamas, Kirsten Albrecht (2003). Tropical Flowering Plants: A Guide to Identification and Cultivation. Timber Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-88192-585-3.
  4. ^ Iremonger, Susan (2002). A Guide to the Plants of the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. The University of West Indies Press. p. 47. ISBN 976-640-031-8.
  5. ^ Gurib-Fakim, A. (2011). "Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L.) W.T.Aiton". In Schmelzer, G.H.; Gurib-Fakim, A. (eds.). Prota 11(2): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 2. Wageningen, Netherlands: PROTA.

External linksEdit