About Prairie Milkweed: This native wildflower, though it has become rare in some areas, thrives in midwestern American prairies; it typically grows in moist areas, meadows, or thickets. This species’ Latin name, sullivantii, honors noted 19th century American botanist William Starling Sullivant. At one time, the silk from this plant’s seed pods was spun for fabric or used for stuffing pillows; in World War II, school children gathered the silk to provide a cheap filling for soldiers’ life jackets. Commercial attempts to make use of this abundant plant included the manufacture of paper, fabric, lubricant, fuel, and rubber; eventually these became impractical and were abandoned. Though this plant is toxic to most animals, butterflies are immune to the plant’s poison and actually become rather poisonous themselves as protection from predators.
Prairie Milkweed Germination: In late fall, direct sow just below the surface in full sun and rich, well drained soil. Plant three seeds together every 18-24 inches. Germination will take place in the spring, after the last frost. When the seedlings appear, thin to the strongest plant; seedlings usually do not survive transplanting, since they resent any disturbance of their roots. For spring planting, mix the seeds with moist sand and refrigerate for 30 days before direct sowing.
Growing Prairie Milkweed Seeds: Young plants should be watered until they become established; mature plants can tolerate some drought but grow best with regular watering. Though not invasive, this plant will eventually spread by rhizomes and forms colonies in the wild. It will also self seed if left to drop its seed. The flowers attract many bees and butterflies, including swallowtails, red admirals, an hairstreaks. Deer avoid this plant.
Harvesting Prairie Milkweed: This makes a striking cut flower. Cut the stems long, choosing flowers that have just opened. Keep in mind that the milky sap is mildly toxic and can irritate the skin.
Saving Prairie Milkweed Seeds: After the plant finishes flowering, 3-4” narrow pods will form. Be sure to harvest the pods before they split and the silky fluff carries the seeds away on the wind. As soon as the seeds inside the pod ripen to their mature brown color, remove the pods and spread them out to dry. Split open the pods and take out the silky seed material. Remove the fluff from the seeds. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place.
Detailed Prairie Milkweed Info: Origin: US Native Other Common Names: Sullivant's Milkweed, Smooth Milkweed Duration: Perennial Bloom Time: Summer Height: 24-36 inches Spacing: 18-24 inches Light: Full Sun Soil Moisture: Medium to Wet USDA Zone: 4a-9b Seeds Per Oz: 4,900 Produces a plant with thick, 6” elongated oval leaves and clusters of pale to bright pink flowers.