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Abutilon theophrasti- Velvet Leaf

Abutilon theophrasti Velvetleaf, China Jute, Buttonweed, Butterprint or Indian Mallow
Abutilon theophrasti has many many common names- so many that I wouldn't be surprised if it had one common name for every star in the sky. Velvet Leaf, Indian Mallow, China Jute, Buttonweed and sometimes Elephant Ear are used to refer to this annual that is native to Southern Asia. It was introduced into North America in the 1700s where it made itself at home in roadsides, cultivated fields and gardens. Velvet Leaf is considered a noxious weed because it can considerably reduce crop yields as it steals water and nutrients from crops.

When you come across this weed a number of the common names will make a lot of sense. The large leaves are very soft to the touch and feel almost like...well...velvet. The stems and branches are strong and flexible and you can understand why fiber from the plant has been used in China to produce cords, threads, nets and woven bags since 2000 B.C.

The flowers are small and range from yellow to orange and sometimes go unnoticed (and unappreciated) below the large heart-shaped leaves that can be as much as 8 inches long. Each of the flowers, that last about a day, are quickly replaced by a fruit that is initially a light green but quickly turns brown or black. The seeds which are eaten in China can remain dormant in the soil for 50+ years just waiting for the right conditions to germinate.

Two years ago I spotted a lanky plant growing in a neighbor's garden and asked her about it. She didn't know what it was but allowed me to take a photo of it to have it IDed by members of a gardening website I post on. It was easy enough finding someone who was familiar with it and warned about letting it go to seed. Unfortunately my neighbor didn't follow through with the advice and now I have it growing in my garden. As soon as I take a few more photographs of this weed I'll be removing the seed pods which one gardener told me were used by his mother to decorate the edges of pies when he was growing up on the family farm.

Source: Velvet Leaf


  1. I don't think I've ever heard of this plant ... or weed, I suppose, depending on one's view. Decorating pies ... it did serve some useful purpose then. Thanks for including that!

  2. Living in farm country, even spending oodles of time on my grandparents' farm, I'm quite familiar with buttonweed, but I don't think I've ever noticed the flowers! They're pretty!!

  3. Kate,

    I hope you get to experience the texure of this plant-but in someone else's garden. :0)

    Kylee did they used to have any uses for this plant on their farm?

  4. Pretty flowers, but it does like to take over?. This plant truly is a weed.

  5. The flowers are really pretty! I don't think I've ever seen this. Thanks for the info.

  6. Funny how common names don't really tell you much, and they are usually so diverse. I like it when the common name matches the plant in some way to be helpful with ID.

  7. I grew up on a farm and one of my summer jobs was to go around in the pasture and hog pens and cut this plant down. But we never used it for anything. It was just a weed nothing would eat. Thanks for the memories.

  8. No, my memories of buttonweed are that it was a hated weed in the fields. We've got some just over the fence at the back of our property by the cornfield.

    You know, I have an abutilon (Flowering Maple) that is grown as an ornamental house plant that has those same velvety leaves. I have two others that don't have that texture, but the one feels exactly like buttonweed. With this post, I never noticed the similarity or knew they were in the same family, but even their seed pods look very similar!

  9. My Flowering Maple abutilon looks very different from that cheerful yellow buttonweed. I've been hauling my "ornamental" plant in and out winter and spring for several years and am about ready to give it the heave-ho (I think I'll decorate a piecrust first though).I do like the deep red lantern-shaped flowers but I have to point them out to garden visitors since as you mentioned they are hidden under the leaves.

  10. Hi,

    Sorry for the late reply funny that Kylee and lostroses should bring up a flowering maple because I have one and will be posting a pic soon.



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