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