How to save milkweed seeds (cleanly) – Guide with pictures
August 20, 2019
I thought now would be an appropriate time to share my method for how to save milkweed seeds cleanly, without making a mess of the feathers / silk that are in the pods. This guide will show you how simple it is to not make your garage/house/basement look like an exploded pillow factory when harvesting milkweed seed. It works great, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the best method to save Asclepias seed.
It’s getting to be that time of year when all of out Asclepias plants start having their pods open up to have seeds gently float away in the Autumn breeze. Our Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa) and Common Milkweed (Asclepias Syrica) seed pods have been forming for some time now. While the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) pods have just started forming within the last 2-3 weeks. So, hopefully within the next few weeks I’ll be gathering a number of different milkweed pods to harvest the seed.
You can help the Monarch Butterfly by propagating more milkweed!
The population of the Monarch Butterfly has beendecliningfor years. The best way to help them is to increase the number of milkweed plants. Propagating them in your garden is one great way to give them a stop over place to get nectar and lay eggs. The milkweeds native to North America are the primary hosts for Monarch Caterpillars. They lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed (Asclepias). The best way to help these species is to plant milkweed, plant milkweed, and plant more milkweed!
The simplest process to cleanly save milkweed seeds
There are many different methods and variations to get milkweed seeds. Some of them are quite easy, others require a bit of planning and materials. Most of them will result in some milkweed floss/feathers getting in the way of a clean harvest. But I’ve experimented with many different methods over the years, and unless you want to go full-on industrial, this is the easiest and most direct method to save milkweed seeds. This process works very well and minimizes the mess.
Also, this process for cleanly saving seed works on all varieties of Asclepias. I’ve done it on common milkweed (Asclepias Syrica), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and Swamp milkweed.
1 – Obtain Milkweed Pods
If you have a supply from you yard, then great! Otherwise you can generally find milkweed plants just driving around and looking in roadside ditches, or public parks. Some examples of milkweed plants and their pod shapes are shown below.
2 – Pick pods when they are ready to ‘pop’
You need to harvest pods at the right time. Too early and the seeds won’t be fully developed. Too late, and the seeds may have already floated away with the wind. If the pod is starting to open up on its own, or if you gently squeeze on each side of the seam and it easily starts to open, then the seed is ripe, and the pod ready for harvest. You can place a small rubber band around it to hold it together until you get them home. If you harvest pods before this time, then the seed may not be fully formed yet. If that is the case it is best to wait a few days to a week and come back to try again.
The pods shown in the picture above are definitely ripe. But you would probably release a lot of feathers if you tried to harvest these, as they have opened up quite a bit on their own. You could do it, but would just need to be very careful.
3 – Harvest the pods
Just clip the base of the pod off the plant and place into a paper bag. This way you can get plenty of pods on your trip. If you are just getting seed to propagate a few plants for your yard, then you probably only need a few pods. Otherwise, use a paper bag to hold as many seeds as you can get.
4 – Open the pods, remove the fluff (or feathers, floss – everyone seems to have a different name)
Take a pod, and identify the base and top. You will be able to feel the seed through the pod, and the top will have no seed (just feathers). Then, firmly grip the base just above the seed. I do it so that the bottom edge of my fingers is in contact with the seed. With your other hand, gently peel the pod like a banana until it reaches your fingers. Next, firmly grip the feathers and pull.
The feathers will come out, although it may take several tries. You will know that you have them all when the core of the feathers comes out. The collage below summarizes the process quite well. Click on it to get a larger view!
5 – Harvest the seed
Then, just open up the rest of the pod. You should have all seed and no fluff. Pour the seed onto a plate to dry for a week or two in a cool dry location. Or just use a paper bag that is open to the environment.
6 – Store the seed
You can store the seed in envelopes, paper bags, or even plastic bags if the seed was fully dry. A good portion of the seed will be viable for several years after harvest. Alternatively, you can plant the seed directly into the garden if you like. That is a low maintenance method for saving milkweed seeds.
Now, I did make a short video on our youtube channel a while back. I’ve linked to it below, so you can see this wonderful process in action. Believe it or not, I generally separate most of my milkweed seeds indoors. This is truly the best method I’ve found to save milkweed seeds cleanly. I hope you enjoy! Got any other tips? Tell us in the comments below!
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Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you!
Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!