We were out for a walk through the prairie a couple of weeks ago, and eldest grandson found a plant with soft, velvety leaves and asked me what it was. I didn’t know, so he suggested we call it “velvetleaf”. Well, what do you know, that is its name, because of its chief characteristic — the large, heart-shaped, velvet-textured leaves.
But it is distinctive for its unusual shaped seed pods as well.
Something this odd looking cannot be native, so I looked it up in the Invasive Plant species book, and sure enough, it is a terribly invasive weed, which explains why it was growing so well right at the edge of the prairie in the most disturbed ground. It is also known as China Jute (for the strong fibers harvested from its woody stem) and Indian Mallow (pretty yellow flowers in the hibiscus family which apparently smell fruity).
(Photo from Wikipedia)
Each seed capsule is multi-compartmented, and each compartment contains 2 or 3 seeds, so each plant can produce a large number of seeds.
And that’s where the bane of the farmer comes into this story. Velvetleaf is an aggressive invasive in croplands, especially cornfields, and can decrease corn yield more than 30% if left untreated. Here in the midwest we see lots of TV ads in the summer for various herbicides, and now that I think about it, they all promise to “eradicate velvetleaf”.
But on the prairie, velvetleaf has to compete with native grasses and forbs that cover the ground in a dense mat of vegetation, so it seems relegated to the edge of the fields.