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  • Writer's pictureKristin Bailey Wilson

Pappus All Over the Kitchen: Common Milkweed


Common Milkweed
common milkweed blooming in July

As a teenager, my parents took us on a family vacation to Rome. It was a rare treat made even better when my dad bought me, my sister, and my mom little bottles of Chanel No. 5 from the duty free shop on the plane. The perfume is supposed to smell complex, rather than like any individual flower, but to me, it's a common milkweed flower: woody and vanilla, with a little something pungent.

common milkweed and carpenter bee
common milkweed bloom hosting a carpenter bee

Milkweed blooms are the size of tennis balls at the farm. Like most of the natives I grow, those at the farm are bigger and healthier than those I grow in my home beds full of purchased dirt. I can smell the larger farm patches from about 5 feet out. When I'm among the blooms, it's heavenly, and full of pollinators. Coco might not have liked the pollinators, but she'd love the smell.


Milkweed blooms in the heat of summer. These pictures of blooms were taken in July. Now is the time for seed pods.

common milkweed pods
common milkweed pods

Pods on stalks. Not a thing of beauty. They're covered with stiff spiny hairs -- and beetles of various ilk. They're both rubbery and crusty.


Milkweed are perennials, so you won't need to plant them every year. That big stand of milkweed in the first picture started as a few stalks. They expand by rhizome roots. There's tap root too, so they are serious about holding their ground, a particularly good trait if you'd like to capture a little CO2 in the dirt.


There's also the famous monarch problem; I'll write about that another day. For today, it's those pods that I'd like to see as beautiful, but I'm struggling. I'll say something nice about the shape, tear drop with a little flourish on the end.


Every year it feels like it takes forever for them to dry. I check. I check. I check. The pods need to be at the point of bursting or open before you gather the seeds. If you're not there when they burst, the light fluffy pappus carries the seed away. I've tried organza bags I've gotten with jewelry purchases. You place them around the pod and tighten the string around the stem. I've tried rubber bands and string around the pods. All that works. It's a hassle though, so I check.

common milkweed seeds and pappus
common milkweed seeds and pappus

Once the pods are starting to open, I store them in a peanut butter jar with holes in the lid in my tool bucket. When it's full, the pods go into a paper bag. It's probably best if they stay right there until it's time for stratification (about 30 days cold and moist), but this year I thought I'd get a jump on it and extract the seeds from the pods.


Milkweed pappus is silky. I'd sleep on a pillow stuffed with it, or, better yet, wear a blouse made of it. It's really luxurious. It feels like a fabric used in a haute couture fashion house.


It also floats and flutters everywhere. If you're not careful, you'll have a house full of it. It's relatively easy to carefully work open the pod with your nails and rub your finger down the nested seeds. Then gently tap them onto your table or into a container. But once in awhile, a pod gets away from me and all that pappus is fills the air.


If that happens to you, my recommendation is that you remain good humored about it. Gather handfuls together and dump them on your sleeping cat. See if you can't create a little excitement. :)



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