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Gomphocarpus physocarpus


Water Needs

low; moderate

Gomphocarpus physocarpus
perennial; shrub small
Cotton Balls; Hairy Balls

50 cm up to 2 m high and very slender


Light Conditions



light; moderate; hardy


white; pink; summer; November to April; year-round

Garden Situation

sun; rockery gravel; grassland meadow; dry soil; slope bank; clay soils; wildlife bees wasps insects butterflies birds beetles


grassland; bushveld; fynbos; urban streets; Coastal KZN; Coastal Eastern Cape


Western Cape; thicket; grassland; subtropical east coast; bushveld savanna;

Rain Season

summer; winter

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The Wild Cotton is a tall, single-stemmed perennial/ small shrub with sparse foliage and long narrow leaves and little upside-down caps of white flowers that form large, dropping bunches along the side branches. What takes this scraggly plant out of the ordinary are the large round inflated balls, a bit like a plastic beach ball, attached by short stems to the side branches. They’re covered in a multitude of tiny hairs or spikes. Yellowy green in colour they turn light brown as they age at which time they burst open to reveal soft silky hairs with tiny black seeds attached. As with most grassland species, the hairs are incredibly light enabling the seeds to be dispersed on their silken parachutes with even the slightest breeze. Many bird species use the soft, silken hairs to line their nests. Each ball contains an incredible number of seeds and they tend to seed themselves all over the garden. As each plant only lasts a couple of years, this continuous germination of seedlings ensures the garden will always have some of these unique plants. If you need to move the young plant from where it has seeded itself, transplant when small. The plant itself is very poisonous, so keep children away. However, it is the host plant for the African Monarch butterfly that in turn is poisonous to predators! Hairy Balls is hardy and frost resistant, originating in rocky places in grasslands. Shallow rooted, it is unfussy about soil, but keep it mulched as it would if growing naturally. It looks beautiful planted with the purple flowered Polygala virgata which is of similar height and growth habit.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus
Gomphocarpus physocarpus
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