Velvetleaf (abutilon theophrasti), also known as ‘butterprint’ and ‘China jute,’ is an annual noxious weed growing from three to eight feet tall and reproducing from seed.
It is an edible but invasive weed known to steal nutrients from other vital plants, decreasing the productivity of the growth you want in your garden. It occurs in home gardens, along roadsides, sidewalks, and other disturbed areas.
Continue reading to learn more about velvetleaf, including how to identify it, what to use it for, and how to remove it when it becomes an issue.
Velvetleaf dates back to 2000 B.C. in China!
It originated in India and tropical Asia and was commonly used for health remedies in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fever, stomachaches, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.
This weed was introduced to North America in the 1700s and was meant to be a fiber crop.
However, it failed in that endeavor and has become a widespread problematic weed that grows in many places and drains the soil of vital nutrients to support other plant life.
Velvetleaf is an annual weed that grows from about three to eight feet tall and has thick, stout stems covered in tiny hairs.
Its soft leaves are also covered in tiny little hairs, giving them a velvety texture responsible for the plant’s common name. These large leaves are heart-shaped with pointed ends that grow along the thick stems, and when they are crushed, they release an odor.
The vibrant yellow flowers have five petals attached to the base and can grow in clusters or individually along the leaf stems, growing up to an inch in diameter.
Why It Is Considered A Weed
Velvetleaf is an invasive weed because it is a very invasive species that grow nearly anywhere, with seeds that can lie dormant in the soil for up to 50 years!
It mainly starts growing around developing areas, such as roadways, gardens, and just about anywhere the ground has been disturbed enough to unearth long-buried seeds, which then sprout as soon as the soil is warm enough.
Velvetleaf is commonly found in agricultural fields, mainly targeting corn and soybean crops, but it is also found in radish and turnip fields.
It significantly reduces crop production because it is extremely competitive and drains moisture and vital nutrients from the soil, starving other plants nearby.
Velvetleaf attracts pests like corn earworms, tobacco budworms, and nematodes. The weed infiltrates crop fields like corn, soybeans, and turnips crops, where these pests destroy a large percentage of crops.
The tall plant not only attracts pests and starves plants nearby but also grows so tall it blocks out the sunlight crops need to thrive.
When velvetleaf is destroyed, it releases chemicals into the soil to prevent nearby plants from germinating, further damaging crop production.
How It Spreads
Velvetleaf is spread by seed. It is self-pollinating, making it even easier to spread quickly.
A single plant can produce thousands of seeds that lie dormant in the soil until they are disturbed by tilling the area for a home garden or agricultural field or when the area is dug up to install infrastructure such as roadways, sidewalks, etc. Once disturbed, the seeds will begin to sprout as soon as the soil is warm enough.
The seedlings reach maturity very quickly and then begin blooming, with new flowers emerging every couple of days or so, and it is nearly impossible to control once established.
There are a few ways to control the production and spread of velvetleaf. Your chosen method will largely depend on where you plan to use it.
You may want to use herbicides if you are trying to kill the weed in and around agricultural fields, sidewalks, roadways, and other infrastructure. Still, if you are trying to rid your home garden of the weed, you may want to stick to natural methods.
Whichever method you prefer, you must monitor the area closely each year for new growth and remove it promptly to prevent further infestation.
To manually eradicate velvetleaf, each plant should be dug up or pulled from the ground completely before they begin flowering.
Don’t till or plow the area because this will promote seed germination and complicate your task.
Established plants will take longer to get rid of, so you will want to keep an eye on the area each year to make sure the weed isn’t growing back. Short growth can be mowed close to the ground if you see short growth.
Velvetleaf seeds are robbed of favorable growing conditions when crops are rotated, but make sure not to overload the area with nutrients because the weed is very opportunistic and can leach all the nutrients from the soil to thrive.
A selective weed killer eliminates velvetleaf near grassy areas without damaging the grass or other healthy growth you want to protect. You can also use other herbicides to kill the weed, but make sure you don’t apply them to plants or grass you want to keep.
Uses for Velvetleaf
This weed’s roots, seeds, and leaves are edible and have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fever, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, and urine incontinence.
It also sanitizes and softens the skin and helps heal bruises and cuts. In Asia, velvetleaf is still used for rope, bags, fishing nets, etc. It can even be used for toilet paper in a pinch.
Unripe seeds are edible raw, but ripe seeds taste bitter, so they are best ground into flour for bread or soup.
A Pretty Flower but an Invasive Weed
Velvetleaf is an annual weed that produces beautiful yellowish-orange flowers in the summer.
They are gorgeous flowers, but the plants are extremely invasive and can damage crops, reducing production greatly. The weeds can grow nearly anywhere and reproduce very quickly.
This pesky weed can be removed using manual methods, like digging the roots up and removing them, or with weed killers, depending on where it is located and if you have plants nearby that you want to keep healthy.
If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.
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Brittany Tedford is a fiction author who has been writing for over fifteen years, an aspiring English teacher, and a writer for Minneopa Orchards.
She lives in a small town in Mississippi, known for its southern hospitality and success in the agricultural industry.
With a bachelor’s and a master’s in Creative Writing and English, Brittany loves researching and writing about nearly any topic. She hoards random tips and bits of information to share with others!
Brittany can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org