Butterfly Weed Seed Collecting

ILGM

Buy Cannabis Seeds Online

Milkweed is an important food source for monarch and other caterpillars. It comes in many varieties and can be grown nearly everywhere. In this short International Butterfly Breeders Association post by Bonnie McInturf, we show you how to collect milkweed seeds. How to Plant Butterfly Weed Seeds. Sometimes called pleurisy root, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial wildflower grown for its showy, reddish-orange flower clusters and textured, lanceolate leaves. It thrives throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 10, where it is … Learn how to grow butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a low maintenance perennial that attracts butterflies and their larvae all season long.

A Simple Method for Collecting Milkweed Seeds

There are many reasons to collect and grow seeds from your garden, especially milkweed seeds.

Regional Variation

Maybe you have a milkweed plant that you or a neighbor really liked last season, and you want to continue growing it next year. Sometimes there is local variation within a plant variety, and this plant is especially well-adapted to your area, as evidenced by last year’s success. It is worthwhile trying to get seeds or starts from the area in which you will be growing it.

Get an Earlier Start

Nurseries plan for demand, and depending on where you live, they might not offer milkweed plants as early in the season as you would like. Sometimes you can get a head start on the butterfly season by using a sheltered area such as a porch or balcony, and growing your own milkweed will allow you to get set up earlier.

More Milkweed Varieties

Usually the more popular types of milkweed seedlings are offered by nurseries or online, but a much wider range of options is available when you start your own from seeds. Since the concentrations of cardenolides vary between species of milkweed, it is always good to have a range of options in your garden.

Avoid Pests from Nurseries

So, don’t let this one alarm you! As conscientious as nurseries are, there is always the chance of soil-born diseases coming into your garden, and commercial growers sometimes have outbreaks of mealybugs, etc. The more you can grow yourself, the better.

Save Money

If your plants from last year have rewarded your efforts with large numbers of seeds, you now have a free source you can use yourself and share with friends.

Teach Kids about Plant Life Cycles

Starting seeds is fun and addictive – it’s a great way to get kids involved and let them learn about nature.

When to Collect the Pods

Here is a collection method that requires no special equipment and is quick and easy. Grab your safety glasses* and let’s get started!

Pods can be collected at various times throughout the year, either before or after winter. In the fall is best, as the pods will not have split open as much, allowing moisture to get in. The problem with moisture is that mold can form. When collecting in the fall, it is handy to get the pods before they actually pop open too much, releasing seeds attached to parachutes of fibrous floss (called coma). That can make a mess.

Secure Pods Before They Pop Open

If you have access to the pods while they are ripening, secure them with paper strips sometime in the summer before they pop open. Cut up strips of heavy brown paper (from paper bags or heavy craft paper) and secure the strips around the pods with masking tape. Some people use rubber bands for this, but those often break down in heat and sun. You know those old rubber bands you find in the back of the drawer that are sticky?

Collect seeds before pods look like this.

IBBA (Asclepias curassavica) Milkweed Seed

How to Tell When Pods are Mature

When you have taped up all the pods, keep an eye on them and look for when they start to turn brown. There are several things you can check on to make sure the seeds are mature:

  • The seed pod has started to turn slightly yellow
  • The seed pod has begun to split open or will split along a seam with a gentle squeeze
  • The seeds inside have turned a relatively dark color, not white or cream colored

Never pick pods that are completely green. If a pod cracks open with a gentle squeeze and it’s slightly yellow, it’s ready!

Removing the Seeds

Go ahead and pick the pods and get them to a table with a clean bowl and a paper bag. Many people do this outdoors in case the floss starts floating around.

  1. Take a pod in your hands, holding the stem side in one hand and the end in another. Strip off the covering of the pod so that you have a cone-shaped arrangement of seeds attached to the floss.
  1. Holding the end of the pod that is mostly floss with one hand, pull the seeds off with the other, putting them in the bowl as you go.
  1. Place the seeds in a paper bag to continue drying and label it with the date collected and type of seeds.

Don’t forget to wash your hands before taking off your glasses, and you’re done! Time to start preparing for the next season!

IBBA Tropical Milk Weed Seed

Before Planting Your Seeds

Unless your seeds are tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) place them between layers of damp paper towels in plastic bags or closed containers in the refrigerator for 30 days before planting.

See also  Cannabis Seeds Arizona

This simulates the cold and moisture that they would experience in nature to help break down the outer layer of the seed casings to allow germination. This process is called cold stratification. Many species of milkweed require cold stratification, but tropical milkweed seeds do not.

IBBA Monarch on Plant

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Darlene Loo-McDowell of Sharing the Butterfly Experience and Connie Hodsdon of Flutterby Gardens for providing information used in this post!

Milkweed Sap Warning

*Milkweed sap is an eye and skin irritant. Many people get sap on their hands and then rub their eyes. Milkweed sap in the eyes is a medical emergency, and who has time for a trip to the emergency room? Tip: If you don’t want to wear gloves, at least wear safety glasses. It would be difficult to rub your eyes with glasses in the way, so the safety glasses being on your face will be a reminder that you still need to wash your hands.

2 Responses

Wow! Very informative and neatly presented. I have not seen another article like this anywhere. I didn’t know about the cold stratification for natives or the sap issue. Maybe that explains why some of my seeds did not sprout. Thanks

Bonnie McInturf

Thanks, Russ! Now I’m experimenting with propagation from cuttings. There is so much to learn! What type of seeds were you trying to sprout?

How to Plant Butterfly Weed Seeds

Sometimes called pleurisy root, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial wildflower grown for its showy, reddish-orange flower clusters and textured, lanceolate leaves. A member of the milkweed family, it thrives throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 9, where it is frequently added to butterfly gardens and native plant landscaping.

Butterfly weed and milkweed seed pods may be harvested and planted to support Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Butterfly weed grows well from seeds, which must be harvested in late summer and either sown immediately in the garden, or started in spring after a lengthy chilling process. The seeds are viable and will germinate with little care, although they must be planted at the appropriate depth to ensure successful sprouting.

Gather the butterfly weed seeds in late summer or autumn, once the pods dry to a light, rosy-beige color, but before they split open. Put on rubber gloves before handling the pods to protect your hands from the mildly toxic sap.

Before you begin to harvest the butterfly weed pods, sterilize your cutting tools. Dip the blades into a full-strength household cleanser, such as Lysol or Pine-Sol. Repeat between cuts to prevent the spread of diseases.

Snip off the pod using pruning shears. Slice lengthwise along the edge using a utility knife. Pry open the seed pods. Scoop out the seeds and fluffy matter inside and place it in a bucket.

Leave the bucket outdoors for two or three days to let the fluff blow away. Stir the seeds occasionally to loosen more fluff. Do not worry if some of the fluff remains, since it won’t inhibit the germination process.

Place the butterfly weed seeds in a plastic bag filled with 1 cup of moistened perlite. Store the bag inside the refrigerator for three months. Mist the perlite with water every few days to keep it from drying out completely.

Prepare peat or other biodegradable pots before removing the butterfly weed seeds from the refrigerator. Fill 3-inch starter pots with a mixture of half seed-starting compost and half coarse sand. Moisten the mix and press it firm.

Make a 1/4-inch-deep planting hole in the center of compost mixture. Drop one butterfly weed seed in the planting hole. Cover it with a loose layer of compost. Mist the compost to settle it.

Arrange the starter pots on a propagation mat near a source of bright, indirect light such as near a partly shaded south-facing window. Set the temperature on the propagation mat to 86 F during the day. Turn it off at night.

Water the butterfly weed seeds whenever the compost feels barely damp when pressed. Apply the water by the spoonful or use a spray bottle to keep from dislodging the seeds.

Watch for germination in two to three weeks. Turn off the propagation mat one week after the seeds sprout. Move the pots into a cold frame outdoors or against a south-facing wall with noonday shade.

Transplant the butterfly weed into a permanent bed in spring just after the last frost. If planting butterfly weed in clay soil, dig in 2 to 4 inches of compost to lighten the soil, or consider building raised beds to increase drainage.

Spread a 1-inch-thick layer of mulch around each plant. Water weekly to a 2-inch depth during their first summer, then cease supplemental irrigation.

How to Grow and Care for Butterfly Weed

Colleen Vanderlinden is an organic gardening expert and author of the book “Edible Gardening for the Midwest.” She has grown fruits and vegetables for over 12 years and professionally written for 15-plus years. To help move the organic gardening movement forward, she started an organic gardening website, “In the Garden Online,” in 2003 and launched the Mouse & Trowel Awards in 2007 to recognize gardening bloggers.

Julie Thompson-Adolf is a master gardener and author. She has 13+ years of experience with year-round organic gardening; seed starting and saving; growing heirloom plants, perennials, and annuals; and sustainable and urban farming.

Emily Estep is a plant biologist and fact-checker focused on environmental sciences. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Master of Science in Plant Biology from Ohio University. Emily has been a proofreader and editor at a variety of online media outlets over the past decade.

See also  Are Hemp Seeds Marijuana

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Butterfly weed is a must-have plant for gardeners looking to coax the namesake winged insects into the garden. This clump-forming perennial grows from tuberous roots to a height of one to two feet and is characterized by glossy-green, lance-shaped leaves and clusters of bright orange-to-yellow blooms that are rich with nectar and pollen.

A type of milkweed, butterfly weed is generally planted in late spring after the soil is warm. It is fairly slow to become established and may take as much as three years before it flowers. When it finally does flower, its clusters of bright orange-yellow flowers will display from late spring until late summer. Unlike other milkweeds, butterfly weed does not have caustic milky sap, but it does produce the characteristic seed pods that release silky-tailed seeds to disperse on the wind.

Butterfly weed is considered mildly toxic to humans and to animals. But because it has much lower levels of the toxic sap found in standard milkweed, butterfly weed is regarded as a safer plant in homes with children or pets.

Common Name Butterfly weed, butterfly milkweed, pleurisy root, orange milkweed
Botanical Name Asclepias tuberosa
Family Asclepiadaceae
Plant type Herbaceous perennial
Mature size 1–2 ft. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide
Sun exposure Full
Soil type Dry, well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acid to neutral (6.0 to 7.0)
Bloom time Summer
Flower color Orange, yellow
Hardiness zones 3–9 (USDA)
Native area North America (eastern and southeastern U.S.)
Toxicity Mildly toxic to animals and humans

Butterfly Weed Care

Beloved for its ability to attract a variety of helpful (and beautiful) insects to the garden, butterfly weed is an easy-to-nurture herbaceous perennial that can also be found growing as a native wildflower in a slew of untamed environments, such as meadows, prairies, and forest clearings.

Typically grown from seeds you sow directly in the garden, butterfly weed does not require much tending to in order to thrive, prospering well in sandy, dry, rocky soil, and even in drought-like conditions.

Its seed pods will turn brown towards the end of the growing season (early autumn) and if left on the plant, they will burst and spread seeds throughout your garden to emerge as new volunteer plants the following spring. While the plant can take up to three years to fully mature and produce flowers, its blooms will gradually grow denser with each season that passes.

Warning

Like other types of milkweed, butterfly weed produces large seed pods that disperse small seeds with hairs that disperse on the wind. Thus, it can be an invasive plant that spreads every which way unless you break off the seed pods before they mature and split. Be careful when using this plant in gardens near wild prairie or meadow areas, as spreading is likely.

Light

If possible, choose a spot in your garden that boasts lots of bright sunlight daily, as this plant loves to soak up the rays. Full sun is definitely your best bet.

Butterfly weed can prosper in a variety of soil conditions and compositions, from sand to gravel, and it generally prefers a neutral to slightly acidic pH.

Water

During its first year of life (or until new plants start showing mature growth), you should maintain a moist soil environment for butterfly weed, giving it about one inch of water per week through combined rainfall and irrigation.

Once the plant appears to be well-established, you can cut back to watering it only occasionally, as it now prefers dry soil. An extensive, deep taproot helps it thrive even in dry conditions. Mature plants can do well with just monthly watering in all but the driest climates.

Temperature and Humidity

Butterfly weed thrives in a variety of different temperature and humidity settings, growing well in zones 3 to 9. Generally, the plant emerges in late spring, hitting its peak bloom during the warmer summer months and drying on the stem throughout the autumn and winter. It handles high-humidity and arid climates equally well, provided it gets adequate soil moisture.

Fertilizer

Butterfly weed is a low-maintenance plant that does not require any additional fertilization. In fact, doing so can harm the plant, making it excessively leggy and reducing blooms.

Types of Butterfly Weed

There are a number of named cultivars of this plant. Most varieties, as well as the native species, are orange. But some popular varieties offer color variations:

  • ‘Hello Yellow’ is a variety with bright yellow flowers.
  • ‘Gay Butterflies’ has decidedly reddish flowers.
  • ‘Western Gold Mix’ has golden-orange flowers and is bred especially for the alkaline soils of the western U.S.

Pruning Butterfly Weed

Though butterfly weed does not need much pruning throughout the year, it can be cut back to the ground ahead of the winter season. In late autumn, you’ll notice the leaves on the butterfly weed are beginning to yellow and the stems are drying out and turning brown. This is a sign that the plant is entering dormancy for the season. At this point, you can take a clean set of pruning shears and cut the plant to the ground, where it will stay until it reemerges in spring.

How to Grow Butterfly Weed From Seed

Typically, the easiest and most successful way to add butterfly weed to your garden is to grow it from seed. Plant fresh seeds in fall for growth the following spring, or allow any established butterfly weeds already in your garden to do the work for you.

See also  Cannabis From Seed To Sale

Beginning in late summer or early fall, the plants should start to develop seed pods at the base of the pollinated blooms. If left on the stem, the pods will eventually burst and the seeds inside will be blown throughout your garden, allowing them to establish themselves in the soil in time for the following year. If you’d rather have more control over the eventual location of any new butterfly weed plants, you can remove the seed pods from the plant before they burst open and simply plant new seeds by hand instead.

If you want to start seed indoors, the seeds need cold stratification. Place seeds in moist seed starting mix in a container, then cover with a lid and leave in the refrigerator for two months. Remove from the refrigerator eight weeks before last expected frost, and place in a warm spot under grow lights. Do not let seeds dry out.

Once the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, pot them up in potting soil, and continue to grow inside. As temperatures warm outside and all danger of frost has passed, harden off seedlings for a week, then transplant in the garden.

Overwintering

Overwintering butterfly weed is a simple matter of cutting off the plant stem near ground level as soon as the plant succumbs to cold temperatures in the fall or early winter. There is no harm to leaving the plant stalks in place, though this encourages rampant self-seeding, which is usually not desired. Don’t mulch over the root crowns, as this can encourage rot.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

In most circumstances, butterfly weed is largely trouble-free, but it can be susceptible to root rot if it is planted in dense soil that gets too much moisture. It can also be susceptible to fungal diseases such as rust and other leaf spots, though these are usually merely cosmetic and not fatal.

The plant can be susceptible to aphid damage, which usually is controlled by lady beetles and other predator insects. The plant serves as a host plant to many butterflies, including monarchs, so expect the leaves to be eaten. Do not use pesticides on milkweed.

How to Get Butterfly Weed to Bloom

In general, butterfly weed is not a difficult plant to cultivate and should bloom freely on its own once it has reached maturity (which can take up to three years). That being said, if you’re struggling to get your butterfly weed to bloom, there could be a few factors at play.

It’s important to get your watering cadence right for the plant. It should be watered regularly until new growth starts to appear (this includes leaves and stems, not just blooms), at which point you can decrease the frequency with which you water. Additionally, butterfly weed plants should not be fertilized. While fertilizer may work to make other plants bloom, it can actually harm butterfly weed and discourage blooming. If the plant is not receiving adequate sunlight, it may not bloom, Consider moving it to a new location.

Common Problems With Butterfly Weed

Other than the root rot that can appear in dense, wet soils, there are only a couple of common problems with butterfly weed.

Self-Seeding

The most common issue with butterfly weed is the rampant self-seeding that happens if the seed pods aren’t removed before they burst and scatter their seeds. This can be prevented by removing the seed pods before they dry and burst open. The volunteer plants that appear due to self-seeding should be removed before they establish long tap roots.

Rabbit Damage

Butterfly weed is very attractive to feeding rabbits. Rodent repellant granules or sprays can provide some prevention, but metal fencing around the plants is the best solution.

These are very similar plants and members of the same plant genus. Both are of great value to butterflies and other pollinators. But butterfly weed has notable orange flowers, while milkweed has white or pink/mauve flowers. Further, milkweed is notably toxic, with the potential for fatality if large quantities are consumed by humans or animals. Butterfly weed, on the other hand, has rather mild toxicity, and fatalities are very rare.

Butterfly weed is, of course, a mainstay of butterfly gardens, though it is not quite as attractive to monarch butterflies as is the common milkweed. It is also commonly used in meadow gardens or any landscape design devoted to natural wildflowers. In the mixed border, landscapers find that the bright orange color blends well with blues and purples, such as purple coneflower, Liatris, or globe thistle. It also works well when blended with other yellow and orange flowers, such as coreopsis or black-eyed Susan.

First grown in the prairies of the Midwestern United States, butterfly weed boasts a long medicinal history. Native Americans used to chew the roots as a remedy for pleurisy and other pulmonary issues, and it can also be brewed into tea for treating diarrhea and other stomach ailments. But due to its mild toxicity, butterfly weed should never be eaten uncooked.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.