Milkweed Seeds: Ready to Blow in the Wind

The seed pods of the Common Milkweed, developing over many weeks, are now starting to open in Eliza Howell Park.

Each seed is attached to a silky coma, a “parachute,” which facilitates dispersal by the wind.

The pods split open and the seeds separate, starting at the end of the pod. The brown color indicates that the seeds are mature or ripe, useful information for anyone wanting to collect milkweed seeds for a butterfly garden.

They don’t all ripen at the same time, but these are ready to fly.

The parachute look is evident in a close up view.

Milkweed spreads by rhizomes (roots or underground runners) as well as by seeds. The rhizomes account for the fact that milkweed is often found in colonies, the milkweed patches that I regularly visit in the park. Seeds are designed to start plants in new locations at a distance removed and wind dispersal is perfect for that.

The about-to-be-dispersed seeds are asking to be photographed on a dewy morning.

Milkweed, once best known as an aggressive weed that is difficulte to eradicate from crops, is now widely known as the plant that the marvelous Monarch butterfly depends on.

Common Milkweed attracts many other insects in addition to butterfies. When it is blooming, the milkweed patch is a great place to watch various pollinators. And now that the seeds are ripening, I am watching Large Milkweed Bugs.

The milkweed bugs are, like Monarch butterflies, dependent upon milkweeds. Monarch caterpillars eat leaves; milkweed bugs eat seeds. They are most visible now, as they congregate in large numbers on selected seed pods.

When we want a plant species to flourish, it can be tempting to resent the eating of seeds by wildlife. But, just as the practicec of Blue Jays consuming acorns does not prevent oaks from flourishing, so the loss of some milkweed seeds to insects does not constitute a threat to milkweeds or to Monarch butterflies.

Common Milkweed has long since finished flowering for this year and is now dropping its leaves. The seed pods remian.

This is a great time to stop by and take another look — before the seeds have all been blown away.

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