Peggy Hill is a garden consultant. She writes for Smith Lake Living Magazine and her blog about garden shenanigans at


Hairy Balls
by Peggy Hill - posted 05/18/12

In late summer it’s a mix of charming, white flowers and hairy balls.

They keep their bright color for many weeks, so you can use them over and over again. I add them to my poinsettias at Christmas time.

If you enjoy flower arranging, you are going to love Gomphocarpus physocarpus; and if you have a good sense of humor, you may also enjoy its common name, hairy balls. It’s a large plant, over 6 feet tall, and in late summer, when covered in 2-inch, golden green, hairy seedpods, it is certainly a conversation piece. The cut branches last for weeks and add an unusual touch to any bouquet.

It may be hard to find at the nursery, but it’s easy to grow from seed. Thompson & Morgan is a good source. You can either sow them directly into the garden after danger of frost, or, for earlier flowering, start them inside four to six weeks before the frost-free date. Spend a couple weeks transitioning seedlings to the outdoors. Slowly increase light levels from just a few hours of shade to full sun. When visitors stop dead in their tracks at the sight of this plant, it will be worth the effort.


Common Name: Hairy balls, swan plant

Botanical Name: Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Color: White flowers followed by chartreuse seedpods

Blooming Period: Mid to late summer

Zones: 8–10

Type: Deciduous shrub grown as an annual

Size: 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: In spring, after danger of frost

How to Plant: Even with soil level, 24 inches apart

Soil: Average, well-drained

Watering: Drought tolerant

When to Prune: Pinch off the top, leaving four sets of leaves

In Your Landscape: Plant it at the back of the border with other tall plants such as sunflowers and castor bean.


(From Alabama Gardener Volume XI Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Peggy Hill.)


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