You may have spotted big puffs of cotton-like fluff growing on waist-high stems in a lot of meadows recently. There’s a good chance you’re witnessing the opening of the seed pods of the milkweed plant! In the fall, milkweed pods open up and release their fluffy, downy seeds to drift away on the wind and hopefully produce new plants the following year.
Don’t let the “weed” part of the name fool you: this lovely native plant presents a variety of unique flowers (there are more than 70 species native to the United States!), attracts butterflies, feeds and protects a variety of insects, provides nesting material for goldfinches and orioles, and is amazingly easy to grow. More than 60 different insects need milkweed to complete their life cycle, most notably the beloved monarch butterfly, which feeds almost exclusively on milkweed.
To celebrate this important and beautiful plant, here are five photos of milkweed pods and seeds from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.