How to collect milkweed seeds
Collecting and distributing milkweed seeds responsibly insures a healthy milkweed habitat population. There are also the additional benefits of opportunity for education and developing relationships with private landowners and communities.
Collect only your native or regional seedpods. Leave some pods in the area you are collecting to insure the plants continue to propagate and thrive in that area. A good rule of thumb is to take 1/3 and leave 2/3.
Positively identify the plant before collecting the pods. Milkweed seeds look alike in most species and are very difficult to identify by the seed alone. Mark the collecting container with your name, the date, species common name, species botanical name, and the location of the collection. For instance: “Cathy Downs, 5/24/14, Antelope Horn (Asclepias asperula), Kendall County, Texas.”
Collecting is usually done on private lands, public right of ways and roadsides. When collecting milkweed seeds on public right of ways and roadsides remember safety first! Park in an area where there is no chance of disrupting traffic or putting yourself in harms way. Do not collect in areas near or around development or private gate entrances without permission. Curious onlookers and officials may stop to discuss or inquire about this roadside activity. Take the opportunity and the time to explain politely what you are doing and why. You may even be joined by these curious folks in your efforts or directed to additional areas where they have spotted some of these treasures.
Private property collection always requires permission. As milkweed ambassadors we can not afford to alienate the private stewards of these habitats with any property infringement or trespassing issues on our part.
Hierba de Zizotes
All milkweeds will put out a pod of some sort. The shape and surface texture may vary but the pods will all look similar. The top three species of concern in Texas are listed above.
When collecting pods be sure and have a dry cardboard box or paper bag to put the pods in. The milky sap is very sticky and fresh milkweed pods can mold very quickly. You can line the box with newspaper.
Line boxes with newspaper
Do not pick a pod before it’s time. The seeds will not ripen in the pod when taken from the stem of the plant too soon. The seeds should be dark in color. Green or pale seeds are not ripe and will not propagate. You can remove the pod with a scissor or snips. Be very careful not to get any of the milky sap in your eyes or on your skin. Wash your hands thoroughly and often when handling milkweed.
Never harvest a pod until you see the seam of the pod straining or beginning to split. Be sure the pod is free of all flies, milkweed beetles and other seed eating pests. The pod will usually darken with maturity turning to a dark bark or mahogany color. Watch the seam on the milkweed pod which will start out thin and difficult to see eventually widening and turning pale. On maturity the pod will begin to split.
If you have a surplus of seed in your collecting region you have several choices. You can share the seed with your local or regional communities and schools distributing out of your home or you can ship the seed out for redistribution to other areas of need. I get many requests from Texas gardeners, individuals, schools and first time Monarch habitats for regional seed. There are also non profit and for profit growers and nurseries looking for native milkweed seed. Monarch Watch accepts seed from all over the nation to propagate with their partner nursery and then offers the plugs for sale at cost.
We are beginning to see a market develop in the commercial nursery industry for native milkweeds. If distributing seed to a commercial enterprise it is imperative we distribute only to those growers who have a reputation for non systemic pesticide use. Native American Seed in Junction now includes a variety of milkweeds in their catalogs and conservation packets which include milkweed seeds.
Milkweed seed collection is by its nature a relaxing and enjoyable past time. If we take care to show responsible collecting, storage and distribution practices we are insuring at least a stability if not an increase in healthy Monarch, insect and pollinator habitats.
If you have any questions, additional suggestions or surplus seeds for distribution please feel free to contact me.
Photos by Cathy Downs except for Antelope Horns and Easy Picking by Kip Kiphart.
About Cathy Downs
Cathy Downs established the Bring Back the Monarchs to Texas program.
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Milk weed seed collection
We will be collecting Common Milkweed pod in 2021. Our collection bin (with the Pod Monster inside) will be out on Monday, September 20th. We wait to put it out because here in Northeastern Ohio the pods aren’t ready to be picked until about then. Thank you!
**Please do NOT collect pods from the Cleveland Metroparks or other park properties. Be sure you have permission to pick them on any other property if it is not yours. Thank you!
PLANTING MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS IS VITAL!
To help foster the creation of habitat for the monarch butterfly, Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative (OPHI), in cooperation with Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts is organizing a Statewide Milkweed Pod Collection each year starting September 1st and ending October 31st.
Milkweed is essential to the survival of monarch butterflies in Ohio and Ohio is a priority area for monarchs. The monarch butterflies that hatch here in the summer migrate to Mexico for the winter and are responsible for starting the life cycle all over again in the spring.
Since 2015, volunteers have collected approximately 5000 gallons of common milkweed seed pods, totaling over 22 million seeds! Milkweed is the only host plant for the Monarch butterfly for egg laying and caterpillar rearing. It also serves as a food source for Monarchs as well as many other pollinator species. The disappearance of milkweed across the U.S. has contributed to the 80% decline of the eastern monarch butterfly population over the last 20 years.
During September – October, everyone is encouraged to collect Common Milkweed pods from established plants and drop them off at a pod collection station. The majority of Ohio counties have a Milkweed Pod Collection Station, most of them being located at the local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office such as the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District. See list of other SWCD’s collecting pods below.
COLLECTING SEED PODS
To collect the seed pods from a Common Milkweed plant it is best to pick them when they are dry and gray or brown in color. If the center seam pops with gentle pressure, they can be picked. You can prevent the rest from popping open by gently putting a rubber band around them.
Drop Common Milkweed pods off drop off in the bin located on the west side of our building by the garage door – off E. 33rd St.
3311 Perkins Ave, Suite 100
Cleveland, OH 44114
Questions, contact Amy: 216/524-6580, x1005; [email protected]
Other SWCD’s collecting Common Milkweed pods:
Check with your local Soil and Water Conservation District to see if they are collecting Common Milkweed pods. However, you can always take them to any district’s collection, they do not have to go to the county you collected them in or live in.
When we know which ones are doing the collection this year, we will post it here.