By Student Conservation Association Interns
For the past couple of weeks the green milkweed, abundant at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, has been producing large green pods stacked with rows of seeds. In an effort to save the monarchs, both interns at the refuge, Alex Ocañas and Courtney Anderson, have been making trips to different non-flooded units for collection. The goal of this project is to help create a seed bank that can be used to increase milkweed for “way stations” as a source of pollen, nectar, and egg-laying space for not only monarchs, but pollinators alike!
We have spent a lot of long, hot hours in the sun. Between startling encounters with snakes and pricking our fingers with thistle, this job is no easy task. Collection of these seed pods is an extremely delicate task and requires knowledge on the part of the harvester.
- First, not all pods are the same. The shade of the pod or proximity of other viable pods is not always a sure-footed indicator of preparedness; meaning that even if one pod on the same plant is ready the other one may not be.
- Second, the pod should pop open along the seam with little effort. If you are struggling to get it open, chances are it is not ready.
- Third, the seeds should be dark brown. If they are white, green, or light brown, then the nutrients have not made their way from the plant to the seeds to give them the best chance at germinating – and once you pluck the pod from its plant, the seeds will not develop any further.
- Fourth, any milkweed beetles (orange and black insects) seen on the pod are an indication of poor pod quality. These insects actually pierce through the pod and poke holes in the seed!
With all of this in mind we have collected nearly half a pound of seeds and plan to use them in the future. Beyond the collection process, there is delicate and precise procedure for handling and storing the seeds afterwards as you prepare them to be planted. How the seeds are processed and stored depends on what time of year you plan to sow them. To help with future seed collections or to get some of your own call, or for detailed information on processing seeds, call us at the Refuge, (903) 786-2826 or use Contact to email us. You may also want to visit http://www.monarchwatch.org/milkweed/prop.htm,