Ask Ella: Why Balloon Plant Milkweed Isn’t Just for Butterflies
Ask Ella is a recurring Garden Collage feature where we ask our in-house florist, Ella Stavonsky, about floral design– including the history of, origin, and maintenance that goes into some of the most intriguing flowers on the market today. This column is dedicated exclusively to common and rare varieties of flowers you’re likely to find at your local market. This week, we spotlight balloon plant milkweed, a curious clipping that gives arrangements a dynamic look.
Balloon plant milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) goes by many evocative names: balloon cotton-bush, nailhead, gooseplant, and swan plant (we’re not sure about that last one, either). Not easily mistaken for anything else, the balloon plant is characterized by its dangling, airy, almost hollow orbs, which when opened reveal a core of seeds. They are a fresh, pale green and are accompanied by elegant, thin leaves (which we always like to leave on in our arrangements). Sometimes the orbs can take on a slightly reddish hue around the center, but always maintain their distinctive, prickly shape.
In bouquets, balloon plants add a curious texture of green (a welcome change from more standard fare like ferns and eucalyptus), augmenting without stealing the spotlight. They offer the perfect Summer-into-Fall transition, evoking the unbridled green of summer and the imminent harvest of autumn. We love them in bouquets that play with hues of the same color, offsetting other pale greens like those of wheat stalks and blue grass, or in arrangements that play with more wild colors, like those that use strands of fuchsia.
“Not easily mistaken for anything else, the balloon plant is characterized by its dangling, airy, almost hollow orbs, which open to reveal a core of seeds.”
White peegee hydrangeas in particular do well at offsetting balloon plant’s delicate green color, but at the end of the day, Ella told us, “Whatever is in season will look beautiful.” On keeping the cuttings fresh, she advises, “Just regular cold water does the trick. Recut the stems and change the water every other day. You can also try hammering the base of the stems a little bit, like you do with hydrangeas, to increase water uptake.”