What does it look like?
Velvet leaf is a summer-growing annual plant that can grow up to 1.5m tall or more. It has large, heart-shaped leaves, which are soft and velvety to the touch with a musky odour. It has small yellow to yellow-orange flowers that open for a few hours during the hottest part of the day. The distinctive black seed pods contain about 40 large, hard black seeds.
Velvet leaf is native to India or China. In countries where it has been introduced it is found in wasteland, vacant lots, gardens and cultivated fields, especially maize and soyabean fields, and along fence rows. It is also reported as a weed of other row crops overseas, including asparagus, strawberries and orchards.
Velvet leaf is not known to be present in Northland. However, there are infestations in the Waikato and North Auckland (Helensville).
Why is it a problem?
The spreading canopy of velvet leaf competes with other plants for sunlight, water and nutrients. It also produces chemicals that inhibit seed germination and seedling root elongation of other plants.
Velvet leaf reproduces from seeds, which are produced in large numbers and can survive for up to 50 years in soil. They germinate in large numbers in cultivated areas such as field crops.
Vectors of spread: Velvet leaf has been accidentally imported into New Zealand with soya bean seed and in fodder beet and as a contaminant of other grains. The seed can also be spread on farm machinery, and as a contaminant in silage, straw and hay, or in effluent from animals that have been grazing infested land.