Friday, October 16, 2020

The Unmentionables

Another happy surprise on the terrace this late summer has been the Gomphocarpus - a plant I used to know as Asclepias, a milkweed. It is African, and I met it only twice in southern Africa. Once in Botswana, when I was teenager, visiting the mind-blowingly beautiful Okavango Delta for the first (and maybe only) time; and later with the Frenchman, driving through the little town of Rhodes, in South Africa's eastern Cape. Very different habitats. 

And here it is, growing as an annual in a pot in Brooklyn, New York. It was an impulse-buy at the always-pleasing Gowanus Nursery.

It is known colloquially as hairy balls. Or bishops balls (I mean...?). And more politely as balloon plant. In warmer North American climates it is very invasive and has earned noxious weed status. 

In Brooklyn its beautiful flowers were Snack No. 1 with the various wasps and hornets that visited the terrace this summer. I think they might be strong enough to break free of its milkweed-entrapment-sneakiness - the flowers actually snag the legs of visiting insects, making them struggle, and in struggling they toss pollen around. OK for robust hornets, not so much for smaller honeybees. Milkweeds are mean. 

But yes, very compelling, late in the season. 


Trash Forage, 24 October, Prospect Park

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