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Soil & Water Conservation District

MILKWEED POD COLLECTION

Milkweed Pod collection has ended for 2023. Thanks to all those who brought us pods! Look for this initiative next September!

Knox Soil and Water Conservation District hosts a state-wide milkweed pod collection in autumn. The seed pod collection generally takes place from September 1st thru October 30th.

Over the two months, volunteers are encouraged to collect dried (brown) milkweed pods from established common milkweed plants and drop them off at Knox SWCD office located at 160 Columbus Road in Mount Vernon.

Common milkweed
The large teardrop shaped pods are typically evident on the plants in late August – early September. They stay green until late September when they begin to brown before they eventually split open unleashing the brown, fluff tufted seeds to the wind. The collection time allows for volunteers to spend the early weeks of September locating and monitoring pod producing milkweed plants.

Please join us in our effort to replenish this important plant in Ohio by collecting milkweed pods in your area. Also, don’t forget to harvest seeds for yourself and leave some pods behind so that natural re-seeding can occur.

The seed pods of common milkweed, when they are beginning to brown and dry, signaling that they are ready to be harvested.

Why Milkweed?

The Monarch butterfly is one of America’s most iconic pollinator species
Monarch butterflies are specialists, which means that they only use one species of plant to raise their young on. The adult butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, the egg hatches, and the caterpillars will feed solely on milkweed. The caterpillars have a major appetite and grow rapidly. Toxins in milkweed are metabolized by the insects thus making them toxic and bitter tasting to potential predators.
Monarchs and other pollinators such as bees, moths, and beetles contribute to our local farmers by way of pollinating crops, therefore, putting food on the table. The goal is to collect seed from areas that milkweed is established and planting it where milkweed isn’t. This will replenish habitat and increase the available plants for the butterflies making it easier for them to find and lay eggs.
Tagging efforts are trying to collect data on Monarch migration and life cycles
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in flower

Monarch populations have been in decline. Development of rural lands and prevalent mowing and herbicide use have all reduced the abundance of naturally occurring milkweed plants. This has resulted in substantial loss of critical resources available for Monarchs and, therefore, aided in their drastic decline. Planting native milkweed species to help restore breeding habitat is critical. In addition to common milkweed, other native species of milkweed include: swamp or rose milkweed, butterfly milkweed, Sullivant’s milkweed, green milkweed, whorled milkweed, purple milkweed, and poke milkweed. 

Experts estimate that the eastern population of Monarchs has diminished by 90% over the past twenty years. This incredible downturn in numbers should serve as a red flag, and efforts should be made to correct the conditions. Collecting milkweed seed pods is one of the easiest ways you can make a difference and help protect this valuable pollinator.
By harvesting your pods in brown paper bags, you discourage moisture buildup that causes molds and mildews.
Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed

Tips for Collecting Seed Pods

When collecting seed pods from a milkweed plant only pick brown pods to insure the seeds are mature. Do not collect green pods as the seeds will not be mature and therefore, will not be able to germinate. Leave the green pods on the milkweed plant and wait for the pods to mature and turn brown before picking. If the center seam of the pod pops with gentle pressure, the seed pod is ready to be picked.
Be aware of the small and large milkweed bug around open seed pods. These beetles are orange/red and black and eat the seeds of milkweed. They are completely harmless to people and the plant itself. The beetle is not able to chew its way into the pods and will wait for the pod to open. A rubber band lightly wrapped around the pod will prevent the milkweed bugs from getting to the seeds. Cheesecloth or organza can also be used to surround the seed pods until they are mature.
Meet the four common red/orange milkweed beetles! All of these beetles are native and while they feed on parts of the milkweed plant, they do not hurt the plant. They are all harmless to people. Why are they all reddish orange? Like the adult monarch this coloring is to warn predators to STAY AWAY. All of these insects store the milkweed toxins in their bodies making them unappetizing to predators.
Green pods, like this one, are not ripe and the seeds are not mature enough to be viable
Small milkweed bug, note the black “heart” spot on its back
Large milkweed bug, note the black horizontal band on its back
Red milkweed beetle, note its longer, rounded body and small black spots

It is best to collect pods in paper bags. Avoid using plastic bags because condensation will create mold and mildew which will ruin the seed pod. Store seeds in a cool, dry area until you can deliver them to Knox SWCD.

Harvesting pods from milkweed plants does not have any effect on the population of milkweed in established areas. However, it is always a good practice to leave at least 25% of the seed out on the landscape so that the plants may re-seed themselves naturally.

All milkweed pods collected during this time will be processed by OPHI partners and all of the seed collected will be used to establish new plantings and create additional habitat for the Monarch Butterfly throughout Ohio.

ODA- Common Milkweed Handout

 

OPHI – Milkweed pod collection pamphlet

Swamp milkweed leaf beetle, note its rounded body and black head and thorax
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