Saturday, October 12, 2013

Yankee Cotton

Milkweed pods are opening, releasing their cache of seeds to the wind.  When fluffed open each seed floats under a parachute of white silky threads.  A gust of wind can fill the air with these floating seeds creating a scene not unlike a snow storm.  An individual seed can reach impressive heights and soar great distances if the wind is favorable.  The white threads also latch on firmly to whatever surface they land on.

From a distance this field resembles a cotton field.  We are far north of cotton growing areas so there is no mistaking the actual plant shown here.  Why would we allow this much milkweed to produce seed  in super abundance?  It is the food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars.  That is by itself some justification for this rampant seeding.  The sweet scent of the flowers fills the air in late June.  As a school teacher, my summer vacation started when the milkweed began to bloom.  That association with the flowers and their incredible smell combine to make this a highly desirable plant here.

The ground is heavily littered with seed fluff.  It clogs the air intake of my tractor where it is difficult to remove.  Recently cut grass is covered with milkweed seeds to the point where it cannot be used as mulch.  It is in reality a seed tape for milkweed.

Field mice will collect this bounty to build their winter quarters in our bird nest boxes.  They must eat the seeds since only the fluff remains.

Milkweed is a plant that is hard to eliminate.  These three plants are in the field where I mow.  They have been cut of repeatedly but still continue to sprout.  What grows from those small seeds is hard to believe.  A crooked white root will grow down into the soil for about one foot.  Then the root goes horizontal and runs seemingly forever.  I am certain that any root left behind will send up new above ground growth but I still allow some plants to grow in the garden.  Did I mention the sweetness of the flowers and the thrill of finding a Monarch chrysalis in the garden?

Monarch butterflies seem to be scarce this year.  A bright newly hatched male was seen today looking for goldenrod flowers still young enough to contain food.  We still have an occasional yellow flower head that will provide nourishment for this butterfly as he migrates southward.  Our overnight frost was light but the stragglers need to get a move on.

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