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Leaves, flowers and fruit. Copyright CSIRO

Scale bar 10mm. Copyright CSIRO

10th leaf stage. Copyright CSIRO

Cotyledon stage, epigeal germination. Copyright CSIRO

Gomphocarpus physocarpus



Scientific Name

Gomphocarpus physocarpus E.Mey.

Meyer, E.H.F. (1836) Commentariorum de plantis Africae Australioris 1 : 202. Type: South Africa, J. F. Drege; holo: B ? destroyed. Fide Forster (1996) Flora Australia 28: 218.

Common name

Balloon Cotton Bush; Cotton Bush




Usually flowers and fruits as a single-stemmed shrub 1-2 m tall.


Leaves rather variable, leaf blades about 5-8.5 x 0.9-1.3 cm. Stipules dark, small and inconspicuous, less than 1 mm long. Petiole grooved on the upper surface. Leaves, twigs and petioles produce a milky exudate.


Inflorescences not strictly axillary, arising from the twigs beside the petioles but not in the axil of the petiole. Pedicels about 1.5-2 cm long. Flowers about 10-16 mm diam. Anthers sessile. Ovary clothed in glands or glandular hairs. Each flower with two free carpels but only one appears to be functional.


Seeds about 5 x 2 mm, excavated or flat on one side, testa reticulate, long white silky hairs on the margins. Cotyledons yellow-orange.


Cotyledons about 20 x 8-9 mm. First pair of leaves narrowly ovate, opposite. At the tenth leaf stage: leaves linear or narrowly elliptic, apex acute, base attenuate. All parts of the seedling produce a milky exudate. Stipules small and inconspicuous. Seed germination time 8 to 24 days.

Distribution and Ecology

An introduced weed originally from Africa now naturalised in NEQ, CEQ and over a wide area of eastern and southern Australia. Altitudinal range from near sea level to 1100 m. In NEQ grows on farmland and disturbed areas of eucalypt forest and occasionally along roads, etc. in rain forest.

Natural History & Notes

A poisonous plant but rarely eaten by domestic animals. Everist (1974).

Herb (herbaceous or woody, under 1 m tall)


Shrub (woody or herbaceous, 1-6 m tall)



Asclepias physocarpa (E.Mey.) Schltr., Beiblatt No. 54 : 8(1896).

RFK Code