Swan Plant (Asclepias physocarpa), packet of 10 seeds, organic
Family: Milkweed (Asclepiadaceae)
Hardy to Zones 8 to 12
Swan Plant (Balloonplant, Ballon Plant, Swanplant, Family Jewels, Monkeyballs, tontelbos, melkbos, modimolo)
Tropical perennial grown as an annual in the temperate US. The plant is considered a curiousity, with drooping clusters of asclepias-type flowers, white, giving way to inflated, hairy balls as per the photo. Very fun and eliciting almost always a gasp or two from visitors. This plant is considered an invasive weed in the tropics although we find it harmless and easily controlled in our temperate greenhouses and associated gardens. On a hike in the highlands of Laikipia province, Kenya, I came upon a region where these grew in some profusion. But really, they did not grow to the exclusion of other plants, instead making interesting bushes with dangling balls, here and there, and the experience left me wondering why this comely and apparently unobtrusive plant should deserve the “invasive” adage. Over time (and protected from frost, of course), the plant can develop a thick, woody stem, which tends to dip under the weight of its branches, flowers and fruits, often taking on the shape of the neck of–a swan. The plant is used medicinally among various tribes in Africa. The leaves and sometimes the roots are dried and ground, then used as a snuff to cure headache and to treat tuberculosis. Source of potentially toxic cardio glycosides, any internal usage, even snuffing (although not sniffing, sniffing is OK) should be approached with extreme caution. The plant prefers a warm, well-drained but moist location in the sun or part shade. Sow the seed in the spring or in a warm greenhouse. Barely cover and keep evenly moist and warm until germination, which may take up to 3 weeks. Individuate and pot up. Use very fast draining soil. The plant requires little by way of nutrients but does appreciate regular watering.
10 seeds per packet, certified organically grown