Velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti ), otherwise known as buttonweed, is a South Asian plant that is part of the Malvaceae family. It is an annual plant that grows up to two meters high.
The leaves, which have a heart-shaped appearance, are edible and are often used in Asian dishes such as stir-fries. The plant is also a regular ingredient in Maldivian cuisine.
Abutilon theophrasti is labeled an invasive weed in North America as it is particularly harmful to the growth of soybeans and corn. Research has shown that if velvetleaf is not appropriately controlled, corn yields can be reduced by more than one third. Velvetleaf damages the growth of other plants by taking water and nutrients from the crops that surround it. Comprehensive weed control practices are recommended to prevent and eradicate it.
Since velvetleaf can remain dormant for years, weed control is difficult. Each Abutilon theophrasti plant can also produce up to 8,000 seeds. However, as it’s easy to detect the weed’s growth, lawn maintenance is possible. Plants can either be dug or pulled up (this lawn care method is appropriate for a small infestation), but because the seeds are persistent in the ground, velvetleaf tends to re-emerge on an annual basis. Plowing land infested with velvetleaf is not recommended as this promotes further seed germination.
Herbicides can control velvetleaf once it is present, although pre-emergent herbicides are recommended so this plant won’t become a problem in the first place. The best time to use herbicide on velvetleaf is during the day when the leaves are more accessible, as in the evening the leaves droop and become harder to spray.
Preventing velvetleaf from growing is the best weed control method. Mowing areas with the weed, while it is small, will stop it from seeding and replicating. A quick response to velvetleaf is necessary as once the plant goes to seed, it is notoriously difficult to eradicate.