Monday, September 4, 2017

Got Milkweed? by Donna Duffy

Asclepias speciosa seeds about to disperse, photo by Donna Duffy

If you have  native Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) plants in your landscape, now is the time to decide how many more you want. Milkweed seed pods are bursting open and each one releases numerous seeds that love to drift to other parts of your yard and take root. That’s great if you want more Milkweed plants! But if you don’t, now is the time to take action.

Milkweed seeds, photo by Donna Duffy

Milkweeds are fascinating plants. Over 100 species are native to North America. Milkweed plants produce seed pods known as follicles. The follicles ripen and split open in autumn, releasing the seeds. Each seed bears a cluster of white, silky filament-like hairs referred to as a coma. The seeds, each carried by its coma, are widely dispersed by the wind. 

Remove seed pods to limit the number of new plants, photo by Donna Duffy

If you want to limit the number of new Milkweed plants in your landscape,  cut off the seed pods before they burst open. You can share them with neighbors or dispose of them. I usually leave some of the seed pods on the plants to guarantee a new crop of Milkweed next summer. You can carry pods to different places in your landscape and intentionally disperse the seeds if you want more control about where they grow. It’s an imperfect system; I noticed my cat carrying them all over the yard on his long fur!

Asclepias tuberosa, photo by Donna Duffy

If  Showy milkweed seems a bit overwhelming in your home garden, you might consider Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Weed. It's an attractive perennial landscape plant that produces clusters of bright orange flowers and does well in Jefferson County. Like Asclepias speciosa, it attracts many species of butterflies and other pollinators.

For more information, check out the following resources: