Fall is right around the corner, so it’s time to think about the steps for harvesting milkweed seed.
Milkweed is the essential plant for the monarch butterfly life cycle and the sole food source for the monarch caterpillar. It has become less common over the years, primarily due to habitat loss. As abundant fields and meadows have turned into parking lots and developments, the places where milkweed grew naturally has disappeared, leading to the decrease in the monarch butterfly population.
Following these steps to harvest milkweed seeds is a great way to give monarch caterpillars more of the only food source they so desperately need. Follow the simple steps below, and you will have plenty of milkweed seeds for spring.
- Identify: To identify milkweed, use the simple test of snapping off a leaf from the milkweed plant, and a white, paint-like liquid should appear. It’s called latex, and it really does look like white latex paint. However, don’t touch it. The foam is a skin irritant, so be sure to wear gloves.
- You can also visit MonarchMilkweedHabitat.com to find images of milkweed native to your state. This will make it easier when searching your meadows, ditches and fields.
- Test: The best way to tell if the seeds are mature is to exert slight pressure on the pod. It will split open and reveal dark brown seeds. If the seeds are green or light brown, then they are not ready to be harvested. Leave the pod on for a few more days and check back again.
- Pluck: Once the seeds are mature, pluck the entire seed pod off the plant. You can either store the entire pod in a paper bag for the winter or remove the white fluff right away.
- De-fluff: You can separate the fluff from the seeds simply by emptying the contents of the pod into a paper bag or container. Drop in a couple pennies and shake the bag. The pennies help separate the fluff from the seeds easily. Otherwise, depending on how many pods you’ve collected, you can pull the fluff from each individual seed.
- Store: The seeds should be stored in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, so they can stratify over the winter and be ready to plant for spring.
With your help, monarch butterflies will have more milkweed plants to lay their eggs in the coming years. To get more information about milkweed and monarch butterflies, visit MonarchChallenge.com.
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