By: Sierra Chmela
Most Illinoisans are familiar with at least one or two varieties of milkweed. These showy plants are the only food source for monarch butterfly larvae. Consequently, our state insect will only breed near a supply of milkweed!
In July, we posted about the three species of milkweed found around North Pond: common milkweed, swamp milkweed, and butterfly milkweed. As we enter into September, these spectacular pollinator pals have developed seed pods which are in the process of drying out and cracking open.
Almost as iconic as the monarch itself, milkweed seeds are tucked away inside a uniquely shaped pod which protects them until they are mature. Each seed is affixed with a strand of white fluff known as “floss” that enables the seed to be whisked away by the breeze once the pod has opened. Fun fact: during World War II, milkweed floss was actually used to fill the lifejackets of American soldiers when the standard materials weren’t available!
Milkweed seeds can be harvested and deliberately planted in autumn or spring. In order to germinate, seeds must be allowed to reach maturity inside the seed pod and require cool, wet conditions. In nature, this requirement is fulfilled by winter but if seeds are intended for planting in spring these conditions must be artificially replicated by wrapping the seeds in a wet paper towel and placing them in the refrigerator for four to six weeks.
You can learn more about the importance of milkweed to monarch survival and how you can help from the Illinois Monarch Project. Take the pledge to help Save the Monarchs and receive free milkweed seeds while supplies last!