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Welcome to the Milkweed Page. On this page, we will learn some key components of Milkweed production and that effects the butterflies in our area. We will also hear from several groups of students about their experiences with milkweed and how they volunteered to help the milkweed plant flourish.
Milkweed has been around for centuries. In WWII, milkweed pods were gathered throughout the wild, having the floss extracted to be stuffed into life jackets for the military. In the late 1970s, Native Plants, Inc. and a research program believed milkweed biomass would produce a synthetic crude oil. As a team, they decided the production of crude oil from milkweed was too expensive for a small yield. As of 2007, milkweed is being produced commercially as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows and winter coats.
Milkweed plants have some of the most complex flowers in the plant kingdom. The flower’s bright colors attract bees, wasps, butterflies and other nectar-seeking insects. Monarch butterflies are not good pollinators for milkweed; however, the milkweed plant is very important for the butterflies.
How to Produce Milkweed
The first thing in growing any species of plant, is to find the best plant for your region. If you are going to be growing milkweed in a greenhouse or in the colder parts of the United States where they can go through vernalization, it is best to choose a species of milkweed from the north. Most species from the southern part of the United States will grow without being vernalized. However, the seeds will have a high germination rate if they go through stratification. Stratification is a form of vernalization, this is where an individual places seeds close together in layers in moist sand or peat to help the seeds germinate.
Peat has been shown to be the best product to use during the germination process. Once the peat has been placed in the containers, you want to moisten the peat with water then place the seeds in the cold soil. Place the seeds in a dark space or cover with sand. You want the seeds to be at 41 degrees Fahrenheit for anywhere between three weeks to three months. The seeds need to have a 16-hour photoperiod. Also, the peat needs to be moist, but if you do make the soil too wet, you run the chances of fungal growth and killing the seeds.
Once the seeds have four true leaves, the plant can be transplanted to your garden or to a deep pot for indoor use. If growing in a garden, the seedlings should be 1-2 feet apart in the garden bed. Mulch is then suggested to use to help keep the moisture in the soil. If growing indoors, once transplanted to a deep pot, fertilize the seedlings once a week. If desired, pinch off the top set of leaves to promote branching. This will encourage the plant to be fuller.
Experiences with Milkweed
“First we have transplanted some varieties of milkweed that the seeds were stratified. Then a bed was prepared and wild flower seeds were planted. Also other plots were marked with flags so that the could be tilled and eventually have the grown milkweed plants.”-Travis Rhames
“I did research on milkweed and why it is important to the monarch butterfly. Our project is super important because milkweed is the only thing monarch eat so without it they will die. Our hope is to get businesses on board to distribute milkweed to the public so that monarchs have a fighting chance!”-Sydney Johnson
“My group involves testing and producing Milkweed plants in various places at a site in Bryan. We are also testing various Milkweed mixes to determine what kind has ultimate success for the area climate. Some of the mixes we planted and are testing are Bee Friendly mix, Butterfly mix, Antelope mix, and Common mix. We are using these to plant in soil cells as well as outside on slopes, near water, and in plain dirt to see which ones do best. The species of milkweed plugs that will be available for all of the school gardens, habitat restoration/nature reserve projects ones we plant in the soil cell trays will eventually go to the selected elementary schools so those kids can carry on with the project. My group and I also utilize a greenhouse for testing of the Milkweed plants.”