Buttonweed | Velvetleaf | Annual Weed

Do you recognize this seed pod? It is from the annual weed I always called Buttonweed. By late summer the plant forms these characteristic pods. Each vertical segment contains from 2-9 seeds. It is 1 inch across. Later they split open for seed dispersal. Notice the many hairs.



It is a member of the mallow family. The plant Abutilon theophrasti is native to China and India. It was used as a fiber crop in China since 2000 BC. The stem has long fibers suitable for cord, rope, binder twine, fishing nets, coarse cloth, paper and a caulk for boats (Mitich 1991; Spencer 1984). The seeds are edible.

It was apparently introduced to North America before the 1700s. Records show it was cultivated along the east coast for its fiber content. It is now widespread in the croplands of the U.S. and Canada and is considered a weed pest. It was one of the targeted weeds Dad told us to not miss when we walked the soybean fields in the summer.

Known for its ability to thrive in disturbed soils, it grows in the worst of conditions. Here are two examples I found in weedy patches by the trail. Buttonweed2


The leaves are heart shaped with a point at the end. They and the stem are covered with fine hairs. Even the seeds have a fine hairs. The seeds are very durable. They can pass through the gut of animals unharmed. They can remain viable up to 50 years before germination.



20 thoughts on “Buttonweed | Velvetleaf | Annual Weed

  1. shoreacres

    A fellow I knew was skilled in the use of oakum — the tarred fibers used for caulking old ships. He worked at Mystic Seaport for a time, and had his hand in work on the Charles W. Morgan. Because his work often involved historically accurate restoration, he used various oakums; I know that some involved hemp. Given what you say about this plant being found on the eastern seaboard, and its early appearance here, I can’t help but wonder if he ever worked with it. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us, but it’s interesting to think that he might have used this plant.

      1. Mrs. P

        I have certainly found that to be true when getting a new/used car. Suddenly they are all over the place. I hope that isn’t the case with your weed.

  2. Steve Gingold

    I haven’t come across this although we do have it throughout New England…at least I did not recognize it if I have. Considered a pest here as well.
    A related house plant is called Flowering Maple.

    1. Jim Ruebush Post author

      I drove past a 3 acre lot near us today where they are growing pumpkins for the fall. There were hundreds of big button weed plants all over the lot. Too bad they didn’t get out earlier and pull them. Too late now.

  3. Jim Wheeler

    Buttonweed is a good example of the diversity of plant live; just amazing. Clearly, science has only begun to tap the medicinal and material potential that nature offers!

    Wonderful photos Jim, good depth of field and resolution.

    1. Jim Ruebush Post author

      Nature has had such a long time to try out huge numbers of variations on themes. Eventually, successful ones survive the testing. Today we see that diversity you speak of. I agree, it is truly amazing.

      Thanks for stopping by and your kind words. Enjoy your week ahead.

  4. melissabluefineart

    I am familiar with this plant, but didn’t know how useful it can be. Have you eaten the seeds? It confirms my suspicion that if we quit freaking out about “weeds” and paid attention to them, we might learn something.

    1. Jim Ruebush Post author

      No, I never tried eating them.

      I am very slow to respond. For the past week, I’ve been in the remote highlands of Scotland with no internet or phone access. Lovely 🙂


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