Gomphocarpus physocarpus is the botanical name for a plant more commonly known as Balloon plant, Balloon Cotton bush, Bishop’s Balls, Elephant Balls, Family Jewels Tree, Goose Plant, Giant Swan Plant, Hairy Balls, Monkey Balls, and Oscar.

Cee, the Southern Rural Route’s butterfly lady, introduced the plant to me as Hairy Balls. Thus, it will always be Hairy Balls because I’m doing good to remember any name at all. Throw in a name change and I would be in serious trouble. She generously shared a couple of 2-inch plants for experimental growing in my garden.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus was formerly Asclepias physocarpa. I don’t know when it was reclassified. Confusion will abound going forward because there is always someone who didn’t get the memo on reclassification. For instance, the USDA plant database seems aware of the change but their charts still reflect the Asclepias classification.

It is a species of milkweed, a tropical/tender perennial (for Zones 8 through 11) that blooms in the late summer and early fall.

Thumb nail sized white flowers with petals that look like wings over a pale rose center.
Hairy balls in bloom.

The plant resembles the common milkweed but it can grow to 5 or 6 feet, the leaves are a lighter shade of green, and not as wide or long as common milkweed leaves.

It is both a host and nectar plant for the Monarch butterfly.


Typical of milkweed plants, aphids can be a problem.


My plant became very unattractive – a single, woody stalk curling out towards the sun. I pulled it out and tossed it after collecting seeds. Research indicates that I could have pruned it in the late spring to make it bushier. Late spring may work for northern climates but in the South, if you wait that long the plant will be four feet tall. Use your own judgment for your climate.


The seed pods are yellowish-green round balls that grow to about 2-1/2 inches in overall length. They are covered with soft whisker-like hairs spaced 1/4-inch from each other.

Early growth of seed pods. Still not full-size.


My thumb is in the photo to help you visualize the actual size of the seed pod.

Collect seeds in the fall. Allow the pod to turn a rosy-tan color for seed maturity. After the seed pod cracks, break it open and strip the seeds from the white “silks.” The seeds should be brown/black and dry looking. Dry completely before storing.

Hairy balls changing to rosy-tan color. Notice the milkweed bugs on the underside of leaf on right-hand, bottom side of photo.
The pod has cracked open to expose brown seeds attached to silks.
Seeds ready for harvest.


Hairy Balls is normally grown from seeds wind-sown by the plant (bag the seeds to avoid). In Southern climates it can be fall-sown. In northern climates, start seeds indoors in the early spring several weeks before the last frost. The seed does not need to be cold stratified.

Do not cover the seed when sowing and keep the soil moist and in bright light to aid germination (15 to 30 days). Being a tropical milkweed, it will germinate best in warm temperatures (68-80F).

It is considered an invasive in the tropics, subtropics, semi-arid and hyper-arid climates. It grows freely in Hawaii and Africa.


Poisonous if ingested.



Cee and I took off on a road trip to Gainesville, Florida to see the Butterfly Exhibit at the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History. Most of the Museum is free but the Butterfly Exhibit charges $12 for Floridians and Seniors. You don’t realize how small it is until you see it from the outside but, oh, is it magnificent! Walkways take you into a lushly planted tropical rainforest with plants below you, at eye level, and above you. Flying all around are beautiful, large butterflies and moths. A very large moth crashed into the back of my head with enough force that I knew something had hit me. I don’t know the names of these butterflies or where they hail from but I did manage to digitize a few of them.

butterfly of iridescent blue with black edges
Blue Morpho Butterfly

Because of the sun, the crowds and the cramped quarters, I was unable to photograph the plantings. You’ll find a few photos at the Florida Museum Butterfly Rainforest website.

We each bought about 7 plants in the front of the Museum at the Butterflyfest Plant Sale,  a 3-day plant sale. We had postponed our trip to coincide with the plant sale date. I don’t know how often they have these larger plant sales but on Friday and Saturdays they feature 15 plants for sale.

Cee and I were after nectar and host plants for butterflies but they also had a few accent plants. Prices were comparable to a big box store but these plants are, for the most part, seldom offered at big box stores and are hard to find at smaller nurseries.

Cee talked me into buying a weed. I have never in my life paid good money for a weed! She insisted, as she picked it up and handed it to me, that I had to have a False Nettle because it was a host plant for the Red Admiral butterfly. In the excitement of the moment, I took the plant despite the fact that I have never once seen a Red Admiral on my property. Ever. I am truly doubtful I will see one with a lone False Nettle in my garden, either, but at least it grows into a green bush with insignificant flowers and might help discourage other weeds. Kind of like my purple Porterweed that I grow for the big, fat bumble bees.

In addition to the False Nettle, I bought a Brazilian Shrimp Plant, Orange Plume/Mexican Honeysuckle, Lady Margaret Passionflower, Blue Curls, Cigar Plant, and I replaced my Rainbow/Peacock Fern for the third time.

We barely scratched the surface of what the Florida Museum has to offer but it’s only 72 miles away. We’ll go again.


A mild Florida winter and a few milkweed plants extended butterfly reproduction into December and January. I found myself inviting the neighborhood children into the yard to show them my monarch caterpillars. Most of the children are under 10 but I was amazed that one 5-year-old already knew about caterpillars and butterflies. When I was 5, I buried my dead goldfish with his head above the dirt so he could breathe. Obviously, the idea of caterpillars becoming butterflies would have been beyond my comprehension. I’m still a little slow. Most children today come into the world with the ability to thumb type on cell phones. I still poke at the keyboard with one finger. Sigh.

The 5-year-old also managed to set my gag reflex in motion when she wanted to pick up a caterpillar and hold it in her hand. My hysterical mind began to scream, “Are you kidding me? Aack! Aack!” Not wanting to dampen fearless curiosity, I allowed her to gently pick up the caterpillar for a quick crawl on her palm while I stepped back a foot.

A few days later, on January 6, I called the Butterfly Lady, Cee. When she answered her cell phone, I said, “Come get my worms.” She laughed. She was a tad busy as she had just returned from a trip. It was up to me to deliver my 12+ worms to her larger food supply. I had my brother transfer them to a gallon water jug with the top cut out. I covered the jug with enough netting and duct tape to safely imprison them should I encounter a hurricane on my 23-mile trip. I also strapped them in the seat beside me where I could keep a wary eye on them.



Cee’s attitude towards winter butterflies is “survival of the fittest” because she takes a break in the winter from all the work of hatching butterflies. It takes a lot of time to bleach eggs, habitats and milkweed to minimize OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha). Other butterflies, such as swallowtails, don’t require all that bleaching even though she still bleaches the habitats between batches. If you want to know about bleaching eggs, this video explains it.



On January 24, I once again discovered a lone caterpillar on the same milkweed plant. The milkweed had only 2 cold-burnt leaves remaining. I knew the caterpillar had to be moved to a larger food source. Wanting to overcome my unreasonable aversion to caterpillars, I donned a pair of garden gloves to move the caterpillar to the Hairy Balls Milkweed. My brother had mentioned it was hard to get them off the milkweed as they hang on for dear life and I found this to be true. I walked towards the Hairy Balls Milkweed with outstretched palm just in case I tripped. As I was encouraging junior to grasp the milkweed, my head snapped back when my peripheral vision picked up movement. There was a large caterpillar claiming home-ownership of that milkweed plant. I was beyond surprised – this was late January and this caterpillar had not been on this milkweed at the time I delivered the others to Cee. If it had been, it was too small for the naked eye to see. Once I got junior on the milkweed, I stepped back to assess the situation. Seven caterpillars and one of them had the audacity to be hanging out on the other Hairy Balls Milkweed that had 3 hairy balls on it. I was not happy.  I did not want caterpillars mowing it to the ground before I collected seeds from the 3 hairy balls as this was my first time growing this type of milkweed.



Our weather headed into a freeze on January 29 that was to last 3 days. I was afraid the caterpillars would die in a sustained freeze so I covered them with two bed sheets. They were uncovered the morning of February 2. They didn’t appear frozen — color was good and they were still attached to the milkweed but they were not moving. On the other hand, the caterpillar I left uncovered because his milkweed was too hard to cover, was moving and feeding. I checked on the sleepy heads an hour later and they were finally moving. Eight caterpillars survived the freeze. Across town on the same day, Cee found several caterpillars on the milkweed she had intended to trim.



The J-Formation is the term used to explain when the caterpillar attaches itself by a silk pad to begin the metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis. This usually occurs on a plant stem but Cee has found the caterpillars or the resulting chrysalis in unusual places.


monarch caterpillar attached itself in J formation to ridge of clay pot
Caterpillar on the ridge of a clay pot. Photo by Cee.


Chrysalis on a pillow sitting on patio furniture. Photo by Cee.
Chrysalis on a pillow sitting on patio furniture. Photo by Cee.


Chrysalis on antenna of decorative butterfly
Chrysalis on antenna of decorative butterfly. Photo by Cee.


One of her caterpillars went into J-formation on her Staghorn Fern. Cindy and I marveled that the caterpillar had to climb up the bumpy oak tree bark and slither down the chain holding the Staghorn Fern. The only other possibility is the monarch butterfly accidentally laying an egg on the Staghorn Fern instead of milkweed. As we wondered about this, I was standing there, camera in hand, but it did not occur to me to take a picture of the chrysalis or the tree or the chain. I  later asked Cindy to shoot the photos for me. Honestly, I need adult supervision.


Chrysalis on Staghorn Fern. Photo by Cee.
Chrysalis on Staghorn Fern. Photo by Cee.



This is the oak tree with the Staghorn Fern hanging from the chain. Photo by Cee.
This is the oak tree with the Staghorn Fern hanging from the chain. Photo by Cee.
Chrysalis on screen room guide wire.
Chrysalis on screen room guide wire. Photo by Meta.
Chrysalis on top of door frame. Photo by Meta.


how to recycle photo calendars into envelopes

It’s that time of year when you toss last year’s calendar and start all over with a new calendar. If you are starting a New Year with the same resolutions, don’t despair. At least you can do something artsy with the calendar that failed to cooperate. Use those pretty calendar pages of cats, flowers, or horses to make envelopes!

  1. Remove your favorite photos from a calendar with roughly 8-1/2 x 11 photos. The calendar photo should be vertically oriented because your envelope template is about 10 inches in length. You’ll understand this the first time you try to make an envelope out of a mountain landscape and the photo is not as tall as your template.
  2. On the web, get yourself a free A2 size envelope template. The A2 size is for cards with a finished size of 4-1/2 x 5-1/2. Or an 8-1/2 x 11-inch letter that has been folded into fourths.
  3. Print the template out on copier paper then run it through your printer’s copier onto a piece of cardstock.
  4. Cut out the cardstock envelope template. A cardstock template is not ideal because you can’t see through it. If you envision yourself going off the deep end making envelopes, consider purchasing a transparent plastic template such as the one made by JudiKins. I’ve had mine so long it actually has 1994 printed on it. Copying onto a transparency didn’t work — the inkjet ink smudged off.
  5. Keep in mind where your address sticker will go and move the template around on the calendar page to get the best view of the cats, flowers, or horses. This is why a transparent template is best – you can actually see the image on the calendar page. I have never used the big cat envelope pictured below because I didn’t think about the address sticker.
  6. Trace around the template.
  7. Cut on your tracing lines and then fold on all the lines that form the 4-3/8 x 5-3/4 rectangle. If you want to be very precise, use a ruler with bone folder or ball stylus to score the envelope lines. In a pinch, a butter knife will work.
  8. Use double-stick tape or a tape runner like Tombow Mono Permanent Adhesive for the two side flaps and the closure flap.
  9. Avery address labels don’t always stay on the glossy calendar envelopes long enough to reach the intended destination. I would suggest using clear tape over the address label or adhering the back of the label with a Xyron Mega Runner. That stuff sticks!


Left to right: envelope template, two envelopes, ruler, stylus, bone folder, Tombow adhesive and Xyron Mega Runner

Envelopes can also be made from magazine pages, gift wrap, scrapbook paper, sheet music (or a copier version), or recycle interesting junk mail. You can use the template to scale up or down in size by carefully moving it left or right.

If you are a free spirit like my long-time mail art buddy in Ohio, there’s an even easier way to make envelopes. She carefully tears apart an existing envelope, places it on the calendar page and proceeds to trace or cut around it. Sometimes her envelopes have been fashioned in such a way that I’m not quite sure how to get into them. Prior to 9/11, we had a lot of fun testing the mailman’s sense of humor.

So what do you think? Does this look like fun mail?


I am a fan of touring artist’s studios when they are open to the public. It’s a great chance to see the studio spaces of painters, photographers, print makers, sculptors, and textile artisans as well as purchase their artwork. I learned about the CoRK Open Studios via an email from Yelp three days before the event. The CoRK tours have been going on for years, possibly as early as 2013, but the last open studio tours I knew of were held at private homes in the Riverside area in the late ’90’s.

I was disappointed that their website had none of the history of how the The CoRK Arts District (an acronym for corner of Rosselle and King) came into being. I found some of the history in our local newspaper, The Florida Times-Union.  Mac Easton, a partner in Pine Street/RPS, decided artist studios were the best use for 80,000 square feet of warehouse space. The location was no longer suited to industrial or retail use. He approached the artist, Dolf James, with the hope that Dolf would attract other artists, and Dolf moved his studio to one of the warehouses in April 2011.

On Saturday, November 17, I showed up at The CoRK Arts District along with several hundred others who were interested in seeing inside an artist’s studio that is normally not open to the public. The sheer lack of parking is the probable reason the area is not suited to industrial or retail use and parking that could have been used at other buildings was roped off. I started the self-guided tour near where I parked my car. At the third building, I got my hands on a full-color, 4-page brochure with a map on the front page. Not that it helped. You’ve heard about the dimwit who gets lost in an elevator? Yes, Virginia, I kept getting turned around in the hallways of those warehouses and wished I had brought bread crumbs.

It appeared from the map that CoRK encompassed four warehouses named North, South, East and West plus 3 other buildings. I completely missed the recording studio and I’m not sure I saw everything I was supposed to see at CoRK South.

The following photos are a sampling of the 70 studios that were open on the tour.



Yellow bungalow with the word ART painted in black and turquoise
Yellow House


Prints by Hope McMath, who is well known in the local arts community.
Prints by Hope McMath, who is well known in the local arts community.


Artfully rendered school bus in the yard of Yellow House.

On the hood of the bus, above the headlights, was this quote: “Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” – Rosa Parks



The next two photos are murals painted on the exterior walls of the various warehouses.




Multi-color diagonal, overhead, string art in one of the warehouse hallways
Multi-color string art in one of the warehouse hallways.


Douglas Eng’s studio fascinated me. He had a lot of beautiful tree photographs and we were allowed to take a postcard of a cypress tree. One of his photos was a section of a huge high rise apartment building in Hong Kong where people live stacked on top of each other because of population density. You can find it and see more of his photos at I heard him explaining something about a “sandwiching” technique to achieve the long, horizontal tree photo below.


long horizontal photo of trees hanging above piles of branches
Douglas Eng — long photo of trees hanging above piles of branches


Douglas Eng - Odd-shaped structure of photos of trees. On wheels.
Douglas Eng – Structural photography of trees


Zentangle and rubber stamp art.
Zentangle and rubber stamps. This was inside Douglas Eng’s studio but I believe it was a different artist.


Tiffany Manning’s art studio stairs. The entire phrase is “Happiness is doing the things you love in the place you love with the people you love.”


Huge chalkboard wall in studios of Karen Kurycki, Amy Ploss-Samson and Jen Arevalo


Artwork above chalk wall.


Artwork on wall to right of chalk wall.


There were supposedly two artist studios at CoRK South but other than a lot of pottery and this chicken art, it was unclear if there were actual studios to visit. A sign with arrow would have helped.

Cartoonish painting of chicken with "Chicken Got My Mojo" phrase.
This piece of art was in Jeff Whipple’s area.



The front nameplate of an original Heidelberg printing press in the studio of Crystal Floyd.
The front nameplate of an original Heidelberg printing press in the studio of Crystal Floyd.


I believe these exposed wall tiles were also in Crystal Floyd’s studio.


I <i>think</i> this was Sharla Valeski's textile art hanging in a public area of the warehouse.
I think this was Sharla Valeski’s textile art hanging in a public area of the warehouse.


Exposed wooden wall in Sharla Valeski studio with a segmented wooden 5 hanging on the wall.
Exposed wooden wall in Sharla Valeski studio.


Sharla Valeski -- rusty box springs used as a wall to hang framed art.
Sharla Valeski — rusty box springs used as a wall to hang framed art.


Canvas attached to front door of Paul Ladnier studio.


I greatly admired this piece of art. Periodic Table by Princess Simpson Rashid.
I greatly admired this piece of art. Periodic Table by Princess Simpson Rashid.