Separating The Seeds From The Floss

Milkweed seed pods, December 2011 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 November 2020

Looking for something to do this Thanksgiving weekend? You could help next year’s monarch butterflies by planting milkweed in your garden.

Milkweed seeds have to get cold before they’ll germinate (cold stratification) so late fall is the best time to plant them outdoors. Take a walk and gather some milkweed pods. (Leave some behind for nature!) Remove the floss and plant the seeds.

Separating the floss from the seeds can be time consuming if you don’t know these tips.

When the pods are about to burst you can pop them open, grab the bundle tightly and push the seeds off with your thumb.

However, many pods have already burst in southwestern Pennsylvania so you’ll want to use a “mechanical” method to separate the floss.

Milkweed pod burst open (photo by Kate St. John)

For small batches, shake the fluff+seeds with coins in a paper bag or a food storage container.

Enormous batches call for enormous solutions, as demonstrated by Monarch Watch. Yow!

Since I’m not a gardener I have no advice about planting milkweed but here’s an excellent article that tells you everything you need to know: How to Germinate and Grow Milkweed Seeds by American Meadows.

UPDATE: Several people have recommended planting Swamp Milkweed instead of Common Milkweed because it’s a much easier plant. See Claire’s comment below.

p.s. The floss is beautiful but annoying when it flies around indoors. If it gets away from you, it will give you more to do this weekend. 😉

(photos by Kate St. John)

3 thoughts on “Separating The Seeds From The Floss

  1. I’ve had Swamp Milkweed in my yard for about 10 years. It just self seeds every year and I get lots and lots of Monarchs. I also have some common milkweed that I did plant and it’s not an easy garden plant. It’s tall and hard to control and not especially attractive. The swamp milkweed, on the other hand, has attractive flowers and takes care of itself nicely. It’s in my front yard and blends right in. I highly recommend it. I’ve counted as many as 20 caterpillars at a time and a dozen mating butterflies dancing about the yard.

  2. I wonder why it is necessary to remove the seeds from the floss before planting. Does it just make it easier to plant? Mother Nature doesn’t do this.

    1. Claire, it’s probably for our own convenience except … since the fluff comes off when the seeds are stirred/tossed it probably comes off anyway in nature.

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