Encyclopedia Article

Velvetleaf                       Abutilon theophrasti

Family: Malvaceae (mallow family)
Life cycle: Annual
Native status: Native to China and India
Habitat: Crop fields

General description: Reaches heights of 5-6 ft in soybean, in corn can be as tall as the corn Heart-shaped, densely pubescent leaves may reach lengths of 10 inches. Produces yellow flowers that mature into distinctive seed capsules approximately an inch in diameter.

Key ID traits: The heart shaped leaves and stems are covered with short, dense soft hairs giving it a velvety feel.

Similar species: Venice mallow has similar cotyledons as velvetleaf, although those of Venice mallow are typically rounder and shinier than velvetleaf’s. Venice mallow has 3-5 lobed leaves, but the first true leaf may be entire.

Miscellaneous: Native to China and India. Was used as a fiber crop in China as early as 2000 BC, and was introduced to North America in the 1600’s for same purpose. Velvetleaf is often called elephant ears (leaf shape) or butterprint/buttonweed (seed capsules). It was one of the major weed problems in Iowa corn and soybean fields during the 1960s through 1980s. Introduction of new herbicides reduced the magnitude of the problem posed by velvetleaf it is still present in most fields.

Cotyledons are heard shaped and pubescent.

Velvetleaf leaves are heart-shaped and covered with dense, soft hairs.

Flowers have five yellow petals.

Capsules are dark grey and the source of the names butterprint and buttonweed. A capsule contains 35 to 45 seeds.

Velvetleaf was introduced to N America as a fiber crop. Its ability to produce seed even while under duress is one reason it is a successful weed.