Milkweed Transformation

How does a Common Milkweed flower go from a pink ball to a spiny gray container of fluffy seeds?

The shapes don't resemble each other so it's hard to imagine how one transforms into the other.

To solve the mystery I photographed milkweed's stages and assembled them into a slideshow.  Click on the image above and watch carefully as...

  1. The 5-sided buds are not yet open.
  2. Each flower opens into an unusual 5-pointed shape with a cylinder in the middle. (This photo is by Marcy Cunkelman.)
  3. The flowers fade and droop.  Notice the flower base, the ovary, where the petals are attached.
  4. Completely faded, the fertilized ovaries begin to swell.  This is the critical step that shows where the seed pod develops.
  5. The swelling ovaries begin to take on the classic seed pod shape.
  6. Some of the new pods still have a faded flower on top.
  7. In July the pods are green.
  8. In December they are dry and gray.  They crack open to release their fluffy seeds.


Now you know milkweed's secret.


(flower with black-and-orange milkweed bug by Marcy Cunkleman; all other photos by Kate St. John)

4 thoughts on “Milkweed Transformation

  1. Kate,

    I have had milkweed on my property for several years and love the plant and all the stages it goes through in the course of the year. The flowering stage is my favorite with all the buzzing bees and butterflies the flowers attract. And their fragrance is quite pleasing too.

    The best part about the milkweed plant though is watching the monarchs go through their stages of development form laid egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Simply one of the most amazing things you could possibly witness and in you own back yard too! One can easily raise these amazing creatures indoors as I did for several years when my kids were younger. There are sites that can guide you through raising your very own to release on their way to Mexico. Check m out!


    Here’s one

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