Harvesting Milkweed Seeds

Timing is everything when harvesting milkweed seeds! Too soon and the seeds will be immature and won’t germinate, too late and they will have either blown away or create a flossy mess you’ll need to deal with. 

When the seeds are ready to disperse, the floss will expand, causing the pod to burst. For those wishing to collect seed, this floss can be problematic, creating a messy barrier to gathering large amounts of viable seed. There are several options for separating the floss, but the best option is to plan your timing so that you are able to easily remove the seed as soon as it is mature, but before the silky floss has expanded.

Once the milkweed seed pods open, the wind will blow the floss and seeds away from the pod making it difficult to collect the seeds.

Milkweed seeds should be brown and leathery when mature, though the pods themselves may still be green. You can test an unopened pod for maturity by applying gentle pressure to the seam. If the center seam of the pod pops with gentle pressure, the seed pod is ready to be picked. If it does not open readily, the seeds inside are immature.

The perfect time to harvest seeds from milkweed pods is when the pod is starting to pop open at the suture and the seeds are brown. Typically seed pods are brown when the seeds are ready to harvest such as the common milkweed pods on the left.  The showy milkweed pods on the right are green but since the seeds are brown they are ready to harvest. (Photo courtesy of Brent Potter.)

Be aware of the milkweed beetle around open seed pods. These beetles are orange and black and will damage the seeds, making them nonviable. While the bugs do no harm to the plant, if a pod is covered in these insects it’s likely the seed inside is no longer viable and those pods should be avoided.

The beetle is not able to chew its way into the pods but will wait for the pod to open. A rubber band lightly wrapped around the pod will prevent the milkweed beetle entry to the seedpod. Cheesecloth or organza can also be used to surround the seedpods until they are mature.

You can use rubber bands on the milkweed pods to make it easier to harvest the seeds. It can also help prevent the milkweed bugs from getting to the seeds. (Photo courtesy of Linda Herard.)

Organza bags are a perfect solution to protecting seed pods on milkweed and making it easier to collect seeds. You can find them in craft sores or on Amazon.

Once you have collected the milkweed seeds you can store them in a paper bag or envelope until you are ready to plant them. Most native milkweed seeds require cold stratification in order to germinate. Seeds can be planted in the fall on a prepared bed, winter sowed in containers, or planted in the spring after the seeds have been cold stratified in the refrigerator. Click here for more details: http://butterfly-lady.com/three-ways-to-sow-native-milkweed-seeds/

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Monarchs and Milkweed

I am reading a fascinating book by Anurag Agrawal, an American professor at Cornell University of ecology, evolutionary biology, and entomology, called Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution. In it he describes the unique relationship between monarchs and milkweeds.

Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution by Anurag Agrawal. Click here to purchase book.

Monarchs need milkweed to survive since it is the only plant they use to feed their young. Without milkweed, there would be no monarchs. Fortunately, in North America alone, there are 100 different species of milkweed on which female monarchs seek to lay their eggs.

Find these and other native milkweed seeds here: https://tinyurl.com/MonarchFood

Milkweeds get their common name from the milky color of its sap. The sap contains toxins, called cardenolides, which the monarch has adapted to be able to ingest. These toxins serve to protect both the plants and the monarchs from predators. Milkweed provides protection for the monarch larvae as well as the adult butterflies. But the milkweed plants can also be toxic to the caterpillars so they have developed strategies to benefit from the alkaloids in the latex sap to prevent from being killed by those same toxins.

The latex sap of milkweed contains cardiac glycosides, among a variety of other toxic chemicals.

The newly hatched tiny caterpillar must face the challenge of the milkweed latex as it begins its first meal. A first instar caterpillar is so tiny this sticky substance can easily immobilize it if it isn’t careful. Typically the newbie caterpillars chew a small circle and then are able to eat the center portion. This behavior is called “trenching.” By doing so, the caterpillar effectively drains the latex from that small area of the leaf, and makes itself a safe meal. The method isn’t foolproof, however, and a good number of early instar monarchs become mired in latex and die. According to some research, as many as 30% of first instar caterpillars do not survive. (Source : It’s the first bites that count: Survival of first-instar monarchs on milkweeds by Myron P. Zalucki.)

After hatching, the larva eats its eggshell (chorion). It then eats clusters of fine hairs on the bottom of the milkweed leaf before starting in on the leaf itself. It feeds in a circular motion, often leaving a characteristic, arc-shaped hole in the leaf.

Fourth and fifth instar caterpillars larvae deactivate latex before eating leaves by chewing a shallow notch in the petiole (the stalk which attaches the leaf blade to the stem) of the leaf they are eating, which causes the leaf to fall into a vertical position. After the leaf hangs down, the caterpillar will flip around to eat the leaf.

The sticky latex sap in milkweed can make it difficult for the Monarch caterpillar to feed. This fifth instar caterpillar overcomes the obstacle by cutting the petiole of the leaf to halt the flow of sap, thus making the leaf easier to eat and preventing from consuming too much of the toxic sap.

Monarch larvae consume so much milkweed they increase their body mass by as much as 2,000 times or more during the larval stage.

One Monarch caterpillar will consume about 7-8 leaves of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). (Photo by Holli Hearn of Beautiful Monarch. Used with permission.)

Five Common Butterflies


There are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world. About 725 species are found in North America north of Mexico, with about 575 of these occurring regularly in the lower 48 states of the United States, and with about 275 species occurring regularly in Canada. In most parts of the United States, you can find roughly 100 species of butterflies near your home. The number is higher in the Rio Grande Valley and some parts of the West, somewhat less in New England. As one goes northward into Canada the number decreases, while as one goes southward into Mexico the number greatly increases. (https://www.naba.org)

Here is a list of some of the five most common butterflies found throughout the United States.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral butterflies are one of the most common species seen in North America and across the world. Red Admiral Butterflies have a unique favorite food – they love fermented fruit! If you’d like to attract them, try placing overripe cut fruit in a sunny spot in your yard. 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Red Admirals have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
  • The coloring is dark brown with a reddish circular band and white spots. The underside of the back wings looks similar to bark.
  • The caterpillars are pinkish-gray to charcoal with white spots. They have spines along the back that resemble hairs.

Host plants include False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), Pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica), and Nettles (Urtica spp.).

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The Painted Lady butterfly is one of the most widespread of all butterflies, found on every continent except Antarctica and South America.

Identifying Characteristics:
• Painted Lady butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
• The coloring is pinkish-orange, with dark brown to black markings near the wingtips and white spots inside the black markings.
• The caterpillars’ coloring is variable, ranging from greenish-yellow to charcoal. Most have light-colored spots.

Host plants include an incredibly wide range of plants from many different families: Borage (Borage officinalis), Hollyhock (Alcea spp.), Mallow (Mallow spp.), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthius spp.), and Thistles (Cirsium spp.)

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Male American Ladies sip moisture and nutrients from damp soil. Females are often observed flying low in search of their ground-hugging host plants. Both sexes avidly nectar at a variety of plants and are often among those early spring butterflies that nectar from wild plum blossoms. (Alabama Butterfly Atlas)

Identifying Characteristics:

• American Lady Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
• The coloring of this species is a brilliant orange with dark borders and markings and white and purple spots. The underwings have an ornate pattern similar to a cobweb.
• On the underside of the wings, American Lady butterflies have eyespots. These circular markings make the butterfly look intimidating to predators, warding off potential danger.

Host plants include Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), Pussy-Toes (Antennaria spp.), Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium), and Silver Brocade (Artemisia Stellerina).

American Lady and Painted Lady butterflies look very similar to each other. Here are some field marking to help you tell the difference.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

The Cabbage White was accidentally introduced to Quebec, Canada, around 1860 and spread rapidly throughout North America. The caterpillar, often referred to as the “imported cabbageworm”, is a pest to crucifer crops such as cabbage, kale, bok choy and broccoli. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pieris_rapae)

Identifying Characteristics:
• Cabbage White Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 2 inches.
• The wings are light greenish to white, with black wing tips and black dots in the center of each wing. Males have one black dot on each side, and females have two.
• Caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are dark green with a light green stripe along the back.

Host plants include Broccoli (Brassica oleraceae spp.), Brussel Sprouts (Brassica oleracea), Cabbage (Brassica capitata), Cauliflower (Brassica botrytis), Flowering Kale (Brassica oleraceae acephala), Turnip (Br rapa), Prairie Pepperweed (Lepidium densiflorum), Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum), Nasturtium (Nasturtium spp.), Radish (Raphanus sativus), Spider-Flower (Cleome spp.), and Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritime).

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Named for its conspicuous target-shaped eyespots, the Common Buckeye is one of the most distinctive and readily-identifiable North American butterflies. It inhabits a wide variety of open, sunny landscapes including old fields, roadsides, utility corridors, gardens, parks, yards, fallow agricultural land, scrubs, pine savannas, and weedlots. (https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/common_buckeye.htm)

Identifying Characteristics:
• Common Buckeye butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
• Their coloring is brown with orange bars. Black and white rings outline three to four prominent eyespots with middles in blue, magenta, orange, and green shades.
• Caterpillars are dark brown to black with stripes along the back and sides and spines around the entire body.

Host Plants include Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis), Violet Ruellia (Ruellia nudiflora), Plantain (Plantago spp.), False Foxglove (Aureolaria grandifloria), Paintbrush (Castilleja spp.), Toad-Flax (Nuttallanthus canadensis), Common Frogfruit (Lippia nodiflora), Lance-Leaf Frogfruit (Lippia lanceolata) and Brazilian Verbena (Verbena bonariensis).

Click on the link to purchase seeds for these and other host plants for butterflies: https://tinyurl.com/FoodForCaterpillars

Plant Milkweed!

This time of year I often get asked if it is too late to plant milkweed. As far as I am concerned, it is never too late to plant milkweed. According to Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, germination of native milkweed can be achieved all the way into July. https://theodorepayne.org/growing-milkweed-from-seed/

Not all native milkweeds need pretreatment such as cold stratification before planting. Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis), Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), and Wooly-Pod (Asclepias eriocarpa) can be planted directly into a pot or into the ground.

Click here to purchase seeds: https://tinyurl.com/MonarchFood

I have been told that Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) also do not need to be cold stratified. I have successfully geminated the latter two by using the “Jarmination” method I learned from Brad Grimm at Grow Milkweed Plants.

I was able to germinate these Antelope Horn milkweed seeds without cold stratification in only six days using the Jarmination Method. Click here to learn more

There are also non-native milkweeds that do not need to be cold stratified including Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), Balloon Milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus), Swan Milkweed (Gomphocarpus fruticosus), Giant Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea), and Procera Milkweed (Calotropis procera). These milkweeds are perennials in USDA Zones 9-11 and annuals in colder zones unless protected from frost and freeze.

Click here to purchase seeds: https://tinyurl.com/MonarchFood

Milkweed is not only the only plant that sustains monarch caterpillars, but the flowers provide wonderful nectar for many different species of butterflies as well as all kinds of pollinators including bees, moths, and hummingbirds.

So don’t wait, plant milkweed!

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Symbolism of the Passion Flower

The Passion Flower (Genus: Passiflora) is indigenous to the Americas. It is unique among the hundreds of old Christian flower symbols in that there is specific historical documentation of the time and place of its origin – the symbolism having been first perceived by the Mexican Augustinian friar, Emmanuel de Villegas, who reported it, with sketches, in Europe in 1610. The Passion Flower was known in Spanish as “La Flor de las Cinco Llagas” or the ‘The Flower With The Five Wounds.’ ‘Passionis’ refers to (Christ’s) suffering.

Haiku ~ “Passion Flower” by Mary Havran. https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/haiku-passion-flower/

The Corona Filaments

The filaments grow in a ring right above the petals and sepals on the passionflower. These filaments are said to represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore before his crucifixion. The word “corona” is actually defined as being like a crown, or in the shape of a crown.

If you enjoy butterflies in your garden, then you definitely need passion vine.  Not only are the blossoms a rich nectar source for adult butterflies, the leaves are an important food source for some of our most beautiful butterfly caterpillars, including the Gulf Fritillary and the Zebra Longwing.Photo by Suzanne Tilton.


At the top of the flower, above the petals, sepals, and corona filaments, there are three stigmas.  The stigma is the part of the flower that receives pollen and initiates fertilization. The three stigmas on the passionflower are said to represent the three nails that held Jesus to the cross.

The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) not only feeds on the fragrant blooms of the Caerulea Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea) , but will also lay its eggs on the leaves of the vine. Click here or on the image to purchase seeds.

Petals and Sepals

The ten “petals” are said to represent the ten apostles who were faithful to Jesus throughout the crucifixion.

Cloudless Sulphur butterflies (Phoebis sennae) line up to sip the sweet nectar from the Passion Flower. Photo by Heidi Avilés Nieves.


The passion flower has five anthers that can be found right below the three stigmas. The anthers are the parts of the flower where pollen is produced. The five anthers are said to symbolize five wounds that Jesus suffered when he was crucified.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) nectaring on Passiflora incarnata, also known as Maypop. The Zebra Longwing also uses the plant as a host plant for its caterpillars. Photo by Eillen Arevir.


The fruit represents our world that Jesus saved when he sacrificed himself. The fruit is generally a round shape, which is why it is referred to as the earth in this reference.

The fruit of Yellow Passion Fruit (Passiflora Edulis) is edible once the fruit ripens. Click here or on the image to purchase seeds.

Such symbols gave a specific focus of Christian faith to the religious sense of nature, and also provided a visual means of teaching the Gospel story in an era where there were no printed catechisms.

Passiflora is a beautiful vining plant that is a climbing herbaceous perennial, producing alluring flowers that will tantalize you with their scent.