Velvet-Leaf (Abutilon theophrasti)
A pernicious weed to farmers, but to city dwellers an interesting and harmless wild flower. It likes cultivated or recently disturbed ground, and will happily sprout up in a porch planter. Originally it comes from Asia, where it is used both for food and for its tough fiber. This plant was growing on a sunny bank in Beechview that had recently been dug up.
The distinctive crown-shaped seedpods are fascinating to children.
Flowers. Golden yellow; about an inch wide; typical mallow form, with five regular petals and a column of united stamens; borne in leaf axils.
Leaves. Quite large, heart-shaped; velvety; strong pinnate veining; at right angles to fleshy petioles, which are about half the length of the leaves.
Stems. Thick and fleshy; velvety; about 3 feet high (a meter or so).
Gray describes the genus and the species:
ABÙTILON [Tourn.] Mill. INDIAN MALLOW. Carpels 2-9-seeded, at length 2-valved. Radicle ascending or pointing inward. Otherwise as in Sida. (Name of unknown origin. )
A. theophrasti Medic. (VELVET LEAF.) Tall annual, 6-12 dm. high; leaves roundish-heart-shaped, taper-pointed, velvety; peduncles shorter than the leaf-stalks; corolla yellow; carpels 12-16, hairy, beaked. (A. Avicennae Gaertn.; A. Abutilon Rusby.) — Waste places, vacant lots in cities, etc. (Nat. from India.)
In Nature’s Garden (1900), Neltje Blanchan remembers when this flower was a pampered garden pet:
There was a time, not many years ago, when this now common and often troublesome weed was imported from India and tenderly cultivated in flower gardens. In the Orient it and allied species are grown for their fibre, which is utilized for cordage and cloth; but the equally valuable plant now running wild here has yet to furnish American men with a profitable industry. Although the blossom is next of kin to the veiny Chinese bell-flower, or striped abutilon, so common in greenhouses, its appearance is quite different.