velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti)
Abutilon abutilon (L.) Rusby
Abutilon avicennae Gaertn
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of velvetleaf is
Abutilon theophrasti Medik.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This introduced annual plant is a tall and lanky plant, 2-7' tall,
branching occasionally. The stems are round and pubescent.
Leaves: The alternate leaves are up to 8" long and across (excluding the
petioles). They are cordate or orbicular-cordate, slightly dentate along
the margins, and more or less pubescent. Their petioles are up to 4" long
and pubescent as well. The foliage of the entire plant is light green.
The cotyledons (seed leaves) usually differ slightly in shape—one round-
ish and the other slightly heart shaped. Both are covered with soft, tiny,
simple hairs. The cotyledons are about 1/3 to 1/2 of an inch (7–12 mm)
long and about as wide, and often have slightly indented tips. Cotyledon
stalks are long and covered densely with two kinds of hair: short, simple
hairs and star-shaped hairs. The first true leaf is heart shaped with a round-
ed tip, and is slightly larger than the cotyledons. The next leaves are about
4/5 to 1-3/5 inches (2–4 cm) long and as wide and resemble leaves of the
Flowers: From the axils of the upper leaves, there occasionally develops
a single flower about ¾" across. It consists of 5 petals that are orange-
yellow or yellow, 5 sepals that are pubescent and light green, and numer-
ous stamens with golden yellow anthers that surround the pistil in a loose
cluster. The flowering stalk of each flower is about 1" long, which is much
shorter than the petioles of the leaves. The flowers are sparingly produced
Fruit/Seeds: Each flower is replaced by a fruit about 1" across. It is initial-
ly light green, but rather quickly turns brown or black with maturity. This
fruit consists of a circular row of about 10-15 flattened seedpods. Each
seedpod has a stout beak and contains about 5-15 seeds. Each seed is grey-
ish brown, somewhat flattened, and either kidney-shaped or heart-shaped.
The seeds of velvetleaf are reportedly edible.
Roots: The root system consists of a stout white taproot.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Velvetleaf spreads by reseeding itself.
HABITAT TYPES: Velvetleaf is commonly found in orchards, vineyards,
crop fields—especially agronomic (particularly corn and soybean fields)
and nursery crops, gardens, roadsides, abandoned fields, vacant lots, con-
struction sites, waste areas and other disturbed areas. Velvetleaf typically
occurs where the soil has been recently disturbed and the long dormant
seeds are brought close to the soil surface. The seeds germinate during
warm weather after the spring tilling of fields, and the new generation of
plants develops and matures very quickly during the heat of summer, prior
to the fall harvest. As a result, velvetleaf is a major weed of cropland in
many areas of the United States and Canada. It was introduced into the
United States from India as a possible source of bast.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Velvetleaf prefers sandy loams to clay-
loams, moist, nutrient-rich open locations and warm climate and in full
sun. The fertility of the soil, particularly the level of nitrogen, has a strong influence on the size of the plant. The seeds can remain viable in the soil
for at least 20 years, if not considerably longer.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period usually occurs
from late summer to early fall (flowers bloom from July through August
and into September), and lasts about 1-2 months.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Velvetleaf can be found throughout the continental United States and all the southern Canadian provinces.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract
various kinds of bees, including bumblebees, leaf-cutting bees, miner bees,
and Halictid bees. Occasionally, small butterflies and skippers (e.g., com-
mon checkered-skipper, Pyrgus communis) visit the flowers for nectar,
while Syrphid flies feed on the abundant pollen.
Velvetleaf, a summer annual broadleaf plant, is a problematic weed for
many crops in the United States, particularly where cotton, corn, or soy-
beans are major crops. It was introduced to North America from southern
Asia in the mid-1700s as a potential fiber crop. In California, it is found
in the southwestern region and the Central Valley, especially in the Sac-
ramento Valley to an elevation of 330 feet (100 m). It is also found in
irrigated areas of the desert regions. Velvetleaf can also grow in urban
environments and other irrigated disturbed areas. Because of velvetleaf’s
tall growth, it can severely reduce light penetration to crop plants. It also
harbors several diseases and pests of corn, cotton, soybeans, and other
crops. One of the worst agricultural weeds in corn and sugar beet in
North America, strongly competes for light and water with the crop and
releases allelochemicals that reduce growth and emergence of neighboring
plants. A. theophrasti causes high yield losses and interferes with harvest-
ing. Herbicides applied in sugar beet do not control velvet leaf and seeds
can remain viable in soil for 50 years. If infestations are allowed to persist
and produce seed, this weed can be troublesome.
Traditionally, velvetleaf has been extensively cultivated for its bast fibers,
which are used to make string, rope, shoes, rugs, and countless other items;
in traditional folk remedies, it is also used medicinally for fever, dysentery,
Crooked Run Valley