Shoo-fly plant

The shoo-fly plant is an attractive annual with exotic-looking, lush green leaves, pale blue-mauve flowers and interesting seed cases. It seeds prolifically, so you may choose to remove it or prevent it self-seeding.

© Shutterstock

Quick facts

  • The shoo-fly plant’s botanical name is Nicandra physalodes  
  • It is reputed to have insect repellent properties   
  • Other common names include apple of Peru and Peruvian bluebell, referring to one of its countries of origin  
  • The shoo-fly plant isn’t classed as toxic, but it is an ornamental plant not to be eaten by humans 
  • If you need to control the shoo-fly plant, non-chemical methods are easy and effective 

What does shoo-fly look like?

The shoo-fly plant is a fast growing annual, with the potential to reach a height of 1.2m (4ft) and a spread of 1m (3¼ft) in just a few months. It is a distinctive looking plant, with large, green, wavy-edged leaves and pale blue-mauve flowers with white centres, produced from June to October. The stems and papery Chinese lantern-style seed casings can develop very dark, almost black, colouring. 

Did you know?

Shoo-fly seeds can inadvertently be introduced into gardens as a contaminant in birdseed mixes. It is often seen growing on bare ground near bird feeders.

Is shoo-fly a weed?

The shoo-fly plant can be an attractive addition to gardens, particularly in exotic style plantings. Although it looks lush and tropical, it is fairly drought tolerant. Some seed companies sell it, emphasising its value as an ornamental annual plant. The papery seed cases are used in dried flower displays.  

Seedlings may appear unexpectedly in spring or early summer, often in small numbers if seed has fallen from a bird feeder or been deposited by a bird. Their fast growth competes with other plants for moisture, nutrients, space and light, so even if you’re happy to allow some to grow, it is wise to limit self-seeding.

A bee visiting the flower of a shoo-fly plant
A shoo-fly plant allowed to grow and flower in a border 
What is a weed?

The term ‘weed’ describes a plant that is growing where it isn’t wanted. Weeds usually thrive in average garden conditions, reproducing and spreading easily. It is up to you to decide what you call a weed and what you choose to retain or remove.

Frequently asked questions about controlling shoo-fly:

Here are our answers to your most common questions about dealing with shoo-fly plant:   

How invasive is shoo-fly?  

Shoo-fly plants produce many seeds but if you wish to grow them, you can prevent them becoming invasive by removing the seed capsules before they ripen. When they appear in gardens unexpectedly, it is likely to be as an individual plant or in very small numbers, so removal is quick and easy. 

Do I need to get rid of shoo-fly?   

No – you don’t need to eradicate shoo-fly plant from your garden if it has arrived unexpectedly and you want to enjoy its exotic-looking ornamental qualities. However, you may want to prevent it self-seeding. Young shoo-fly plants are fast growing, able to outcompete other seedlings and small plants.   

What is the easiest way to kill shoo-fly?       

If you have shoo-fly growing where it is not wanted, there are a few easy ways to remove it: 
  • Hoe off plants – sever the roots of young plants on a warm, dry or windy day, so exposed roots dry out quickly. Hoeing removes weeds with minimal soil disturbance.   
  • Pull or fork out plants – remove small plants by hand and lift larger ones with a hand or border fork. If you allow plants to flower, be sure to snip off seed capsules or remove the whole plant before seeds have time to develop and ripen.  
  • Smother plants – prevent seeds from germinating by covering the soil in late winter with a mulch of organic matter about 8cm (3in) deep, or by planting ground cover plants to reduce areas of bare soil.
Top Tip

Your home compost heap is not likely to get hot enough to kill shoo-fly seeds, so if plants have already set seed, add them to your green waste collection bin or take them to your local garden waste site.

Should I use weedkiller? 

As shoo-fly plant is easy to hoe off when small or fork out when large, there is no need to use a weedkiller.

For more information, see our page on Weeds: non-chemical controls.

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