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Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Velvetleaf  (Abutilon theophrasti)

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Life stages of Velvetleaf flower and fruit mature plant seedling seeds dried fruit flowering stem and leaves

Velvetleaf, a summer annual broadleaf plant, is a problematic weed for many crops in the United States, particularly where cotton, corn, or soybeans 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 Sacramento 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. Seeds can remain viable in soil for 50 years. If infestations are allowed to persist and produce seed, this weed can be troublesome.


Orchards, vineyards, crop fields—especially agronomic and nursery crops, gardens, roadsides, and other disturbed areas.


Cotyledons (seed leaves) usually differ slightly in shape—one roundish 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 rounded 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 mature plant.

Mature plant

Velvetleaf stands erect and has large, velvety heart-shaped leaves with pointy tips. Stems are coarse and grow to 5 feet (1.5 m) tall or more. Leaves are densely covered with short, soft, simple hairs and star-shaped hairs, have long stalks that are about 4 to 8 inches (10–20 cm) long, and are alternate to one another along the stem. Plants have a distinct odor when crushed.


Flowers bloom from July through August. They are 2/5 to 1 inch (1–2.5 cm) in diameter, have five yellow petals that are fused at the base, are stalked, and found singly or in clusters where the leaf stalk meets the stem.


The fruit is a capsule (similar to a pod) that consists of a cuplike ring formed by 12 to 15 woody segments and is roughly 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. The segments remain intact at maturity and each segment releases 1-3 seeds through a vertical slit on the outer face of the capsule.


Seeds range from kidney shaped to almost triangular, have a notch, are flattened, and about 1/12 to 1/8 of an inch (2–3 mm) in length. They are purplish brown, brown, or black and either smooth or have tiny star-shaped hairs.


Reproduces by seed.

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