When my oldest son was small, his hair was so white and fuzzy that someone remarked, “He is like a dandelion that has gone to seed.” Dandelions have long been a problem for gardeners and those seeking the perfect lawn—but did you know their way of spreading their seed is quite ingenious? Plants spread their seeds a variety of ways—the simplest and most common way is that they produce seed and drop it where they are. Others make themselves delicious for birds–the birds eat their seeds and spread it to other places via their droppings. But other plants, including dandelions and the milkweed plant which I will highlight here, produce fuzz—that fuzz is NOT the seed. The dandelion seed is a tiny thing that just takes a ride on the end of the fuzz–like a paraglider–dependent on the wind for dispersal. Next time you see a dandelion that has gone to seed—look closely at the fuzz and you will see the long tiny seeds attached to the ends.
Here, I will show another version of the same way of seed distribution via the wind. Every year, I try to include some milkweed (Asclepias) plants in my yard, because they are beautiful. “Weeds” in much of the country, they are actually a bit more challenging to grow here. I think because the slugs love to eat them. Milkweeds (butterfly weed) is the sole source of nutrition for the Monarch butterfly, which migrates through the central and eastern portion of the United States and Canada down to Mexico. It’s important for people who live in the path of Monarch butterflies to plant milkweed to help these butterflies. Generally, we do not have Monarch butterflies here in Oregon (extremely rare here), so I just plant them because they are pretty–few plants provide such a brilliant hue of orange.
Milkweeds, like the dandelion, also distribute their seeds by way of fluff, and it’s absolutely fascinating to me. Here are some photos of milkweed gone to seed in my own yard. The brown seeds are easy to see as they are attached to their fluffy “parachutes”, waiting for the wind.
I collected some of the seeds for next year. This is how I seed save: I remove the fluff, put them in a ziplock bag (only if 100% dry), label them, and I store them in the refrigerator with the rest of my seeds.