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butterfly weed seed pods photo

Butterfly weed grows commonly in dry open habitats and is very common in the prairies and grasslands of the Midwest and Great Plains. This beautiful native wildflower is found from Maine to South Dakota to the desert southwest to Florida.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo by T.G. Barnes.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa L.)

By Larry Stritch

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo by Daniel Reed, courtesy of the University of Tennessee Herbarium.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo by Larry Stritch.

Amy Andrychowicz says

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Hello!
I just planted a monarch butterfly garden this spring and my butterfly weed turned out great! I noticed the seed pods and luckily found this website. The pods on one of the plants turned brown and I noticed one had started to crack open on the side. I assumed this meant it was ready for the seeds to be harvested. However, when I split open the pod what appeared to be the seed pods were white and there was no white fuzziness on the inside …. I’m worried I picked them too soon! Is there anything I can do to help them become healthy seeds?

Share your tips for how to harvest butterfly weed seeds in the comments section below.

Amanda Hemmer says

The milkweed seeds about to fly is a day in the gardening season I look forward to. I would hope these plants would find a foothold in many places. I like that the Monarch butterfly feeds and reproduces on a plant that has a plan to not only enable these beautiful creatures, but reproduce.

But the white fluff inside is what interests me the most. Each butterfly weed seed is firmly affixed to its own white silky and fluffy airplane. These white silky hairs catch the wind, and aid in the dispersal of the seed.

There is a day every gardening season when I make the effort to launch the asclepias seeds. It feels good to think I am doing my part.

This photograph from Wikipedia speaks volumes to the importance of the milkweed. Asclepias tuberosa is a favored nesting site for the Monarch butterfly. At summers end, the wild plants we have growing at the shop will be covered with their larvae. The Monarch larvae feed on these leaves. The butterfly weed is a favored host in my area. They will spin cocoons; the mature butterflies will emerge some four weeks, give or take. Only once have I witnessed a mature butterfly emerging from its chrysalis-it happens that fast.

Any landscape designers best ally is what comes from the natural world. All it takes is a lot of observation, and then some serious thought. As my friend and colleague Susan Cohan says, art does not necessarily have to work. No artwork needs a white silky airplane to be. A work of art lives independent of time,conditions, and circumstance. Good landscape design is a craft, in that every moment needs to assess the conditions, fire up,and fly.

Our local fields and meadows are full of the remains of the milkweed pods come November. They have an elegantly spare and ruggedly persistent shape.

Once those seeds emerge, that fluff is everywhere. It will stick to your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your trowel, and your wheelbarrow. An individual seed is large, and relatively speaking, heavy. How this plant has evolved to insure that these big seeds get dispersed is but one of countless stories engineered by nature. I have had occasion to design and install fairly complex landscapes, but this design and execution is beyond compare.