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.
Most of my Bells of Ireland have started to go to seed so I thought I'd post a picture of when I know to collect Bells of Ireland Seeds for those growing this plant for the first time or those that may want to grow it in their garden in the future.
The most obvious sign is when the bracts fade from green to the light brown color you see in the image above. If you look inside the bract you will see that there are (usually) four seeds that resemble a pie cut into four segments- occasionally only two seeds will form. I usually keep an eye on the seeds and collect them right after they've turned brown and a gap develops between each of the segments so I know they're ripe.
Last year when I first collected seeds from my plants I got a big surprise when I encountered the spines that develop below the bell-shaped bracts. When they're completely dry they hurt pretty bad so make sure to wear gloves when handling the spent blooms. There are also spines on the edges of the "bell" that you should look out for.
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