Photo of the Week – October 28, 2011

For a prairie photographer who likes to shoot close-ups of flowers and insects, there’s no easier target in the fall than milkweed seeds.  The photos below were taken several weeks ago at one of my favorite local prairies. 

Milkweed seeds at Lincoln Creek Prairie - Aurora, Nebraska.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) are indistinguishable from each other when they’re not flowering – at least to me.  The fact that they hybridize with each other doesn’t help…

Both species are common in eastern Nebraska, and largely underappreciated because of their abundance.  Like many other plant species, they’ve been unfairly labeled as weeds because they can live and thrive in a multitude of habitats, from cropfields to diverse prairies.  However, they aren’t a species that aggressively outcompetes other plants, and have so many positive attributes it’s hard to imagine not liking them.

They’re by far the most used milkweed species by the larvae of monarch butterflies, but are also the home of many other insect species that specialize on milkweeds.  In addition, the flowers of both species are large and attractive, both aesthetically and to the countless pollinator insects that visit them.  Finally, autumn in the prairie wouldn’t be the same without their big fluffy seeds blowing around.  

6 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – October 28, 2011

  1. Matt O'Toole October 28, 2011 / 7:29 am

    I always enjoyed burning the hairs during the seed processing phase of the year. The large pods made it one of the easier species to collect.

    • Chris Helzer October 28, 2011 / 3:44 pm

      I’m with you. It’s a fun species! Mardell got to burn the silks this fall – now she’s hooked too!

  2. James C. Trager October 29, 2011 / 11:31 am

    Question is, do the seeds remain viable when you burn the silks? We did a small germination test once on some Asclepias tuberosa seeds from the same batch of seeds, 50 burned off and 50 cleaned by ohand. Results – zero germination among the burned group, about 90% among the others. So, we never burn off the fluff any longer.
    Seems that this test would be worth repeating.

    • Chris Helzer October 29, 2011 / 3:22 pm

      It’s a good question, and I’ll admit we’ve not done a test. I will say, though, we spread the seeds out very thin and the fire rips across very very quickly. BUT. We’ll do a test this year and I’ll let you know…

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