Tag Archives: Plants

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.



Castor Bean | Hard Freeze | Update 6

Links to the Original post, Update 1, and Updates 2 and 3, 4, and 5

It was bound to happen. Cold air from the north arrived recently and killed the once tall and strong castor bean plant. It looked so sad. It will not regrow in the spring. I will see if the seeds are viable.


November 8, 2014

The seeds never quite fully ripened. The prickly pods contain 3 in each. A few were starting to split. I cut off the long stalk of them for a closer look. Plus, they will be destroyed and not put out to the environment for animals or children to access. They are toxic.


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Castor Bean | Bigger | Update 5

Good News: Lots of frost in the open areas. Castor is close to the house and was not damaged.

We are nearing the dates of our first killing frost and hard freeze in Iowa. Here is the latest forecast this afternoon. We live one mile north of interstate 80. Bad news for Castor.



The plant does not appear to care. It is bigger and stronger than ever. The last update 4 was September 14. Since then, we went to Oklahoma, New Mexico, back to Oklahoma, and now home. It continues to amaze.

After our walk yesterday, I took this picture from the same vantage point as most of the previous ones.


It didn’t give a good sense of perspective and size. So, I asked Melanie to take another. Can you can spot me in the photo. I am 5 ft 10 in tall in my shoes.


A closeup of the seeds shows them still green. The entire bunch is 2 ft tall. I will need a chain saw and tractor to remove the plant before winter.


Castor Bean | Still Strong | Update 4

Update 4: September 14, 2014

Links to the Original post, Update 1, and Updates 2 & 3.

The plant is now just short of 3 meters (~10 ft) tall. This view gives some perspective to the side of the house. The rain barrel is 1 meter tall.


Prickly pods bearing three beans each are abundant. The structure is 0.5 meters tall (~1.5 ft). The tops of two other stalks are also bearing bean pods. It will take a while for them to dry. We’ve had over 15 cm (6″) of rain the past two weeks. That is not typical for the midwest in September. This is our 4th wettest summer on record in Iowa. The bean plant and everything else continues to thrive on the moisture. I’m getting tired of mowing the lawn.


I watched an episode of Breaking Bad this week. Walter was intent on eliminating a drug lord by extracting ricin from castor beans. They dramatized the handling of the beans only using tweezers. They aren’t nearly as toxic as the show suggested. I don’t plan on testing that out.

Before winter, I will clear the garden. The seed beans will be collected and disposed of so animals and children will not be able to access them.


Castor Bean | Fell Over | Updates 2 & 3

Update 3: September 5, 2014

I stood it up yesterday morning, packed the soil around the root ball, watered it well, and tied it to a sturdy steel post. It looks as if nothing happened.

Twenty four hours after being down on the ground. It looks good.

Twenty four hours after being down on the ground. It looks good.

Update 2: September 4, 2014

Update 1 is here.

We had another inch of rain last night. That is twice this week. It is unusual for Iowa in the month of September to have that much rain. It made the ground soft. On our return from a morning walk, we noticed this unfortunate sight by the house. The castor bean fell over early this morning from the rain and wind. What a sad sight.



It had been tied to a wooden stake as a precaution for this reason. That stake was too short now. It needed a strong metal fence post. I went to the back and got one. You can see it driven into the ground behind the toppled plant.

More on this update below…

Castor Bean | Poisonous | Growing Tall

These photos were taken August 10, 2014. Castor Bean (Ricinus communis) was growing tall and strong. The top of the plant was 5 feet high. Yes, I do understand this plant is toxic.

August 10, 2014 | 5 ft tall

August 10, 2014 | 5 ft tall

I remember that my mother grew some of these on the farm in Illinois when I was a kid. Their height of 10 – 12 feet was very impressive to a small boy.

Two inch wide stalk

Two inch wide stalk

Some of the leaves are 2 feet wide. I like their pronounced vein structure. They are casting shade on the smaller pepper plants below.

Leaves are at least 2 ft wide

Leaves are at least 2 ft wide

I was a skinny little kid. Mom was concerned that I was not eating enough. The doctor advised her to give me a daily large spoonful of castor oil just before the main meal. It turned out to be good medicine. It tasted so bad, I decided food was a better alternative. Very clever advice, doc. Did you know that the cartoon characters, Tom and Jerry, included awful tasting castor oil in one of their cartoons.

More details can be found at this link. Updates to growth progress will come later.

Hippeastrum | A Scarlet Baby In Our House

In mid-December, our daughter gave us a present with a large plant bulb inside, growing pot and medium. It was soon planted and watered, ready to grow. Two weeks later this 5″ wide bloom greeted us.

The stamens were laden with pollen.

It grew so fast! In two weeks, the flower stalk had grown nearly two feet. The ruler shows 0.5″ of leaf growth in a day.

Three buds were emerging behind this first bloom. A favorite piece of wall art framed them perfectly.

It has been about a week since the first bloom. Today, I placed the camera on the counter facing upward, set the self-timer, and captured the four from an unusual direction. Thank you, dear daughter. This has been fun.

Hippeastrum (aka Amaryllis) Family

This very popular holiday plant is one of the most widely grown bulbous plants in the world. While it is often forced to bloom in the shortest, darkest days of winter in temperate zones, it is a popular landscape plant in subtropical zones. Northern gardeners sometimes even treat it as a summer flowering bulb that is planted after the last frost in spring. More from the US National Arboretum web site.