Pelecinid wasp

On August 15 I found something in our box elder tree that is definitely not a box elder bug.

black insect perched on a leaf, with a slender abdomen longer than its body protruding from the back and curved under

A quick Google image search (“mn fly with scorpion tail”) identified it as a wasp, American Pelecinid, that looks intimidating but doesn’t have a stinger. It uses its long abdomen to dig into the ground until it finds the grub of a June beetle, and there it lays an egg that will feed on the grub.

It would be nice if it would look for Japanese beetle grubs, too.

Two weeks later, at a seed collection event, one of these insects landed on another volunteer. No one else knew anything about it, and I was so excited to share what I know about this wasp, including that it’s harmless. However, I couldn’t remember its name, and so I looked it up on my Instagram feed.

In my excitement to share, I called it a PELICAN-id wasp. It wasn’t until about five minutes later that I realized it’s probably pronounced “pell-i-SIN-id” instead. (And yes, according to a Google search, that second version is true.) I was embarrassed the rest of the event, and I don’t think I’ll forget the name again.

More about pelecinid wasps


Winter scenes from the prairie garden

Purple giant hyssop:

stems bending to the right to nearly horizontal, the dark brown flowers frosted with snow


a thin stem pointing to the left, exactly horizontal, the light brown flowers lightly dusted with snow

Bee balm:

two seedheads leaning to the left with white snow hats, with half a dozen seedheads out of focus on the right

Pearly everlasting:

snow covering small, limp, white seedheads

Purple coneflowers:

about a dozen spiky, nearly black seedheads with snow hats that are taller than the flower

Giant snowflake on false indigo:

one big snowflake on a stem, with a much smaller snowflake on a brown leaf for a size comparison


seedhead pointing to the right poking out of a snowbank, the dark brown bracts looking almost like spider legs

Another rudbeckia — this one held onto its color:

black-eyed susan with most of its yellow petals still intact, frosty on top of snow

Rudbeckia stamens and stems:

dozens of stamens and a few seeds randomly scattered across snow

Six months apart

July 20:

blooming blue vervain, bee balm, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers on a sunny day

January 20:

the same scene in winter, all of the flowers brown stems and seedheads


2017 garden in review

At the end of another cold snap, it’s fun to look back at pictures of the garden in its prime.

Front view of the front yard:

a 15-foot section with 10 different types of white, yellow, and pink blooming native plants


Obviously, as I’ve documented at length already, black-eyed susans were the star of the show. Blooming from late June to mid-August, taking up a huge spot right in the front of the garden closest to the street, they were amazing.

closeup of one black-eyed susan in the sunshine at the right, with dozens more faded in the background

This is the year that the cup plant “leaped” — more than a dozen new plants grew away from the original cluster.

five one-foot-tall cup plant seedlings, the one on the right in shade

Bonus: these were young enough that they were just my size. (The older ones are several feet above my head, so I usually don’t see these flowers up-close. The ones at the top of this website were taken when I was holding a camera above my head while standing at the top of a ladder.)

closeup of a cup plant flower blooming on the right, with three budding stems on the left

White snakeroot, which was in our backyard before we were here, spread to a new area in the backyard, and also to the front yard:

two-foot section of tiny white flowers

Joe-pye weed seedlings made themselves comfortable between the pine tree and the sidewalk:

two dozen seedlings less than a foot tall, in a relatively small space


Of course, not everything succeeded.

Trout lily and bluebells didn’t grow, but this was completely my fault. I never got around to planting them, and the little pots blew over in the wind and then something ate them.

two trout lily leaves standing straight up in a square pot with a white plant marker

Blazing star was eaten by rabbits (though I planted more seeds in the fall to try again).

several green stems that have been chewed off at about an inch tall

Vegetables didn’t grow, again. Tried in a different spot this time, too. This might be the last time; we can rely on farmer’s markets and the co-op for our fresh veggies instead.

five white plant markers in a dirt plot next to concrete

Even the path through the garden: it disappeared around the end of June, engulfed by plants that I didn’t have the heart to pull out (or the time to transplant).

three stepping stones surrounded by short and medium green plants

Mixed results

Every year it seems as if one non-native perennial fades or doesn’t survive, and this year it was evening primrose’s turn.

blurry photo of two four-petaled yellow flowers

Allium: perhaps fading like other perennials, perhaps just overshadowed by
bigger, flashier plants around them.

two blooming and one budding purple allium

New plants

From the Landscape Revival plant sale: bishop’s cap, native false indigo, and three kinds of milkweed. (More stories to come another day about milkweed.)

five small potted plants lined up next to a retaining wall

Lobelia from a friend. This is one of my favorite photos of the year because I have no idea how I managed to get the tussock moth caterpillar to photobomb this flower. One day I was transporting caterpillars from the backyard (which ran out of milkweed) to the front yard (which had plenty) and apparently chose that moment to stop and take a picture of a lobelia!

purple flower in focus on the right, with a blurry finger holding an orange-and-black caterpillar in the top left corner

Donated plants

Purple giant hyssop, yellow coneflower, joe-pye weed, and pearly everlasting, dug up from our front yard to donate to a Wild Ones fundraiser:

cardboard fruit box holding about a dozen small potted plants


Squash plant that volunteered in the flower garden — though it waited until October, so no actual squash were produced:

short squash vine with one yellow flower, viewed from above

Bishop’s cap, which I bought in June and normally blooms in the spring, apparently didn’t want to wait for next year, and bloomed in its original pot in July:

closeup of the top of a narrow stem, with four white star-shaped flowers and six buds

New bugs

Peachtree borer moth:

black moth with a narrow orange band around its abdomen

I wasn’t sure how to describe this one on Google to find its name, so I posted it on Instagram and asked for help. Within minutes, I got an answer: brown marmorated stink bug nymph.

roundish reddish bug with darker red stripes and black spots around the edges, facing downward on a milkweed leaf

(More posts to come about new bugs.)

Fun photos

Culver’s root with a stalk that split into six:

green plant with one stem that became six

Four-petaled spiderwort:

purple flower that usually has three petals, but with four

Rabbit caught in the act:

rabbit with its body facing away but turned back toward the camera, visible in the space between plants

Pretty American Lady butterfly next to a faded coreopsis:

black-and-orange butterfly with big circles on its wings, with its proboscis in a yellow flower

In closing

Here’s what I wrote on Instagram in June, on my first master naturalist anniversary. I think it summarizes my year’s exploration nicely.

Today is my master naturalist birthday: one year ago I earned a certificate for completing the prairies and potholes course. Taking this class was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it reinforced my growing interest in the natural world. Since then I’ve learned a lot and committed to environmental stewardship through events such as invasive species removal, wildflower planting, and seed collecting. But my favorite place to explore remains my own front yard.

large monarch caterpillar eating common milkweed buds

Previous garden recaps


2017 education and activism

In 2017 I started to get more involved in learning about the environmental movement. The public side of that work is not an easy thing for an introvert.

Climate change workshop

In March I participated in a three-day workshop about how to teach about climate change issues (for people who are not educators), led by Climate Generation at the beautiful, peaceful, sustainable Audubon Center of the North Woods near Sandstone, Minnesota.

facing the front of a classroom, with a slide on the screen, and students sitting at a table

I started the session feeling out of my element, since most of the rest of the attendees work in an environment-related field. I worried I lacked credibility, but quickly learned that interest and passion are enough.

students in winter coats and hats measuring the circumference of a tree

I wanted to learn about the science behind climate change, as well as to be able to discuss the facts when needed in everyday life, because at this point I am not planning to be directly involved in advocacy work. Not surprisingly, my interest comes from a love of nature, particularly wildflowers. I want to make sure nature is available for future generations.

colorful sticky notes with handwritten comments and questions, stuck to a large white paper

These words spoken by one of the instructors made so much sense, but I thought it was important to write them down and remember them: Being outside in nature instills a value. Do it often. Take time to be quiet and observe. People see changes when they observe multiple times.

And so did these words, written by another attendee:

one sticky note with the message Creating a social movement - we're all in this together - makes things less scary for people

Water Action Day

I walked to the Minnesota State Capitol over the lunch hour on April 19 to observe part of this all-day event that gives citizens the opportunity to talk to legislators about water issues. I was there only long enough to see the crowd gathering for a rally in the rotunda, but there were also trainings and scheduled meetings with state representatives.

looking up at the second level of the rotunda, with a long Mni Wiconi Water Is Life banner across the image

looking down at the rotunda from the third floor, with lots of people holding signs on the first and second floors

March for Science

On a bright, sunny, warm May morning, I joined a huge crowd in St. Paul for a positive, uplifting show of support for the science community. I loved all the clever homemade signs. My favorite, which I saw on my way out when I didn’t have my camera ready: “March for science? Every month for science!”

a green hillside with dozens of people standing, many holding homemade signs above their heads

People started by gathering near the cathedral, walking around looking at each other’s signs and admiring the clever slogans or asking people to pose.

a woman taking a photo with her phone of a woman holding her If You're Not Part of the Solution You're Part of the Precipate sign

overlooking a large crowd of people, mostly from behind, with one large sign visible - I have reached my 100o C

looking across a group of people, one large sign the focus - The oceans are rising and so are we

looking up at a sign at the top of a long stick - I got measles, but my grandson won't. Thanks science!

closeup of a marcher holding a yellow sign - The good thing about science is that it's true whether you believe in it or not

And then the crowd began moving down the hill toward the state capitol.

looking back up the hill at people walking toward the camera

crowd facing the capitol, backs to the camera, one sign visible at right - Let us now pause for a moment of science

standing on the curb as marchers are facing the capitol, one group five across each with a sign on a stick, the sign on the left reads Let's Always Have Paris

I had to leave early for a family wedding shower, so this was as far as I went along the route, and I missed the rally:

closer in view of the capitol with a crane on the right side, a sea of people in front, lots of neon green signs visible

Other education events

On a very cold morning in St. Paul, I learned how to identify trees that have been hit by emerald ash borer. The branches on the left side of this image have some flaked-off bark, which is a sign of EAB. Not visible in this photo, but also present, are lots of woodpecker holes from birds looking for the bugs, which is another sign. The trunk on the right side shows a section where a human manually removed the bark to show tunnels below, left by an EAB. This tree was scheduled for removal, which made it a perfect example to study.

ash tree with the trunk on the right, a large section cut away to show three areas of tunnels, and branches to the left

I attended part of an interesting prescribed burn workshop in February (could only stay for the first half, due to a family lutefisk event)…

classroom with a screen showing a picture of a prescribed burn and information about fire return intervals

…and Aldo Leopold Day presentations about bees at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

a woman in a dark room pointing to a bright powerpoint with a Google map with lots of red pins over Minnesota, and four pictures of bee blocks

A new car

Right before the end of the year, it was time for a new car. My old car, a Honda Civic, served me extremely well for 17 years — yes, 17 — and nearly 250,000 miles. But when it had an electrical problem the week before Christmas, we knew it was finally time to make the move we’d been considering for probably two years.

I knew I wanted either a hybrid or an electric car, as an environmentalist who isn’t even close to being ready to go car-free. While I’m hoping for electric someday, I don’t feel that I am ready personally, and the local infrastructure isn’t quite ready enough, either. So, hybrid it is.

And while I was a couple years too early for a Civic hybrid when I bought my car back in 2000, I was too late in 2017 because Honda has discontinued them. But fortunately, on the very day we decided to look for a used car, we found one at a local dealership. I’m still getting used to the “newfangled” features like keyless start and bluetooth connection, but I love being able to see the miles-per-gallon updates instantly and know how much the heat or highway-vs.-street-driving is affecting that.

closeup of the word Hybrid on the back of a dark gray car


2017 volunteer service hours

I’m at the end of my second year as a master naturalist, and this time I had an entire year to get my 40 hours of volunteering in. Once again I concentrated on stewardship activities, with just one event that was another volunteering category (citizen science).

There were lots and lots of events to remove invasive species, but this year it went well beyond buckthorn — mostly to garlic mustard, but also several others. On the other side of the spectrum, I got to plant native plants on several occasions. The fall once again brought some seed collection events, my favorite activity of all, though I was pretty disappointed that two long sessions were rained out.

In addition to those familiar activities, I got to try several new-to-me opportunities this year: my first BioBlitz, a super-fun bumblebee survey, a creekside live-staking planting, collecting acorns, and not just seed planting but also tending (inside my own home). One thing I missed doing this year: tagging monarchs.

My volunteer events

2/4 Allemansrätt Wilderness Park (Lindstrom) for Great River Greening, 3 hours: Back at Allemansratt Park to volunteer for the third time in five months, this time for a buckthorn burn. Not surprisingly, I wiped out with an armful of brush because we were walking on snow-covered ice – or maybe the surprise is that it only happened once. 82 volunteers cleared 5 tons of buckthorn from 1.5 acres.

pile of sticks on snow, the top left on fire

2/16 Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and Park Connection, 1 hour: Planted seeds into 144 native wildflower plugs (sky-blue aster, prairie onion, and rosinweed). Then I took them to my house to tend them until they were ready to be planted at Coldwater Spring in June.

plastic flat with dirt-filled cups and 2 or 3 large, light-brown seeds in each spot, a wooden marker reading rosin weed

3/18 City of Roseville, 1 hour: Hauled pre-cut buckthorn and other brush into piles for Stantec to remove and chip later.

a series of piles of sticks and logs in a wooded area

3/25 Lost Valley Prairie SNA, 2 hours: Raked pre-cut buckthorn, sumac, honeysuckle, grapevines, and dogwood, none of which belongs in a prairie. Made three giant brush piles that will be burned next winter.

closeup of a pile of very straight sticks, with a garden rake resting in front

5/2 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1 hour: My first time pulling garlic mustard. It rained a lot over the last couple days, so the picking was pretty easy.

gloved hand holding a bouquet of garlic mustard leaves

5/4 Lebanon Hills Regional Park, .5 hour: Showed up just 10 minutes late, but I couldn’t find the crew and “had” to take a hike through the woods instead. By the time I found them, there was only half an hour left in the session. But every little bit counts! (I need to be more creative with the photos since this is almost the same as the previous one.)

almost the same image, a gloved hand holding a bouquet of garlic mustard leaves, with a walking path in the background

5/13 Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, .75 hour: Brought my husband and we picked a big bag full of garlic mustard in a “maple bowl” outside the wildflower garden. The group had been there a week before, and now this area is essentially all clear of second-year garlic mustard. (There are a lot of first-year plants sprouting up, though.)

tall red cylinder lined with a clear plastic bag, nearly full of wilting  greens

5/27 Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, 1 hour: Garlic mustard pull. Plants were past flowering, so it was not easy to find them. This area was pulled last year, and that must have been effective, because we found very few plants.

one green plant with no flowers but long seed spikes instead, lying on a paved path

5/30 Ole Olson Park for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Dug and pulled weeds (Canadian horseweed and absinthe wormwood, but mostly dandelions) from the demonstration prairie on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just north of downtown Minneapolis.

white tub sitting on the ground, full of small plants of various shades of green

5/31 Tamarack Nature Center, .5 hours: Joined a garlic mustard removal crew already in progress.

the ground covered in small, round, scalloped green leaves

6/6 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: My first time pulling leafy spurge. Most of this was in a thistle patch, unfortunately. Then we got to plant some flowers and grasses — which were grown from seed that I helped collect last fall. Very exciting to see that work pay off already!

a pile of yellow-flowered plants between full plastic bags on the edge of a gravel path

a hand holding three plastic tubes with small green plants

6/13 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1 hour: Planted the surviving plugs from the MNRRA seed-planting event in February. A handful of scrawny prairie onions were the only visible plants; none of the rosinweed sprouted; and several sky-blue asters sprouted but faded. Scattered the remaining dirt, too, in hopes that there are still viable seeds that will germinate in the future.

a black plastic flat with lots of small dirt cups, just a few thin green plants visible

6/22 Hastings Sand Coulee SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Dug cow vetch from the dry prairie, while fighting the rain — until lightning drove us away. Lots of interesting plants, and lots of poison ivy.

yellow plastic bag with greens and purple flowers on the ground next to yellow gloves and a small shovel

6/27 Grey Cloud Dunes SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1 hour: Lopped sumac, which is native but forms dense colonies and crowds out other plants in this fragile prairie, in two areas. Toured the area that was cleared last year and saw so many plants thriving, which was a rewarding sight.

a pile of sumac branches on the ground with a loppers resting on top

7/8 Blanket Flower Prairie SNA, 2 hours: PlantBlitz in which my husband and I were the only members of the public to show up despite beautiful weather. The naturalist and site steward decided to carry on, anyway. We found blanket flowers that had already lost their petals, special-concern hill’s thistle, bright orange wood lilies, purple and white prairie clovers, and several grasses (I am no help with identification of those). I’ve unfortunately already forgotten dozens of other flowers we identified — some familiar names, most unfamiliar; total number of species TBA. We got back to the parking lot covered in porcupine grass seeds.

one stem with a yellow globe with red highlights - a blanket flower without its petals

7/11 Indian Mounds Regional Park for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Invasive species removal on a muggy evening. My group pulled crown vetch. Others dug burdock, wormwood, and knapweed.

a lot of light purple flowers in a mass of green, with one flower in focus at the bottom left and a green seedhead that looks like a hand with many slender fingers

8/25 Xerces Society, 1.5 hours: Back to volunteering after an unintentional hiatus that was simply due to the busy-ness of summer. Helped Great River Greening and the Xerces Society with a bumble bee survey, collecting bees in the final summer of a three-year monitoring project. The team caught (and released) 50 bees despite a slow start when rain struck briefly at the kickoff. All were just three species — brown-belted (Bombus griseocollis), common eastern (B. impatiens), and black and gold (B. auricomus) – and most were found on Canada goldenrod or a native thistle.

a hand holding two upside-down plastic containers, each with a bee visible, against a background of goldenrod

8/29 Indian Mounds Regional Park for City of St. Paul, 1.5 hours: Kicked off my favorite volunteering season, seed collecting, with Saint Paul Parks & Recreation. Collected Golden Alexanders (super easy, but came with lots of little round beetles), yellow coneflower (relatively easy), and bee balm (required a fair amount of patience).

sunny image with many plants in the background, and slender maroon umbels in the foreground

9/15 Lebanon Hills Regional Park, 1 hour: Collected acorns for a planting project to take place on National Public Lands Day. This was a particular challenge for me because trees are not my strong suit, but I tried my best. We were to collect acorns from bur oaks or white oaks but NOT from red oaks or pin oaks. More than once I found myself accidentally under one of the wrong trees, but I’m fairly confident I ended up with all white oak acorns.

a hand holding about a dozen acorns, only one with a cap

9/16 Crow-Hassan Park Reserve for Three Rivers Park District, 2.5 hours: Collected seeds from a number of wildflowers: purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, cinquefoil, anise hyssop, tick-trefoil, black-eyed susan, common milkweed, and butterfly weed. We cleaned the milkweed seeds, too. Rain threatened all morning but held off.

purple prairie clover seedhead tilting to the left, on the right sidea mostly red caterpillar with a yellow stripe near its feet

9/19 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1.5 hours: Invasive species control: burdock, curly dock, mullein, buckthorn, crown vetch, all over the park. We didn’t find much — only one garbage bag among nine of us.

blurry image of six spiky burdock seedheads

9/20 Spring Lake Park Reserve / Schaar’s Bluff for Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, 1.5 hours: Collected hoary vervain seeds from a remnant prairie, and yellow coneflower seeds from a restored prairie.

a hand holding three long, brown seed spikes

9/21 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: Pulled weedy absinthe from a triangle-shaped patch, then planted several types of native flowers and grasses. Quite muggy on the last day of summer.

a tall pile of light-green plants that have been ripped out, their long roots visible

10/3 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: Seed collection: one hour of purple prairie clover, a half-hour of big bluestem. Gorgeous early-autumn evening after rain all day, though the sun set before the end — at just 7 pm.

about 10 short, dark prairie clover seedheads, with two big grasshoppers

10/14 Phalen Regional Park for City of St. Paul, 1.25 hours: Collected seeds from partridge pea (a new one for me) as well as little bluestem.

a plant with dark brown seedpods that have curled open, with another plant with straight, unopened seedpods in the background

10/22 Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, .75 hours: Removed buckthorn. In my area the soil was so loose, and most of the plants so small, that most could be pulled by hand; the rest were dealt with via weed wrenches.

an orange weed wrench clenched around a small woody plant, with roots coming out of the dirt on the right

11/4 Grey Cloud Dunes SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 2 hours: Cleared an entire field of staghorn sumac, and started on the invasive honeysuckle. We got to leave the debris in place because the area will be burned next spring.

long view of a grassy field littered with small cut branches

11/18 Middle Creek at Meadowview School for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.75 hours: Planted dogwood live-stakes on the banks of Middle Creek, part of the Vermillion River Watershed, on a chilly morning. Friends of the Mississippi River is hoping that 50% of these stakes will “take” next year and eventually provide stabilization and habitat. This creek has been recently re-meandered (my favorite new term) to a more natural and healthy curved shape that supports plant and animal diversity, and today’s project will continue the restoration. This project was a last-minute addition for me (I had already planned to do another event later that morning) but I was so curious about the live-staking process that I had to add this one too.

light-brown grasses to the right of a brownish creek, with two bright red sticks poking out of the grass and one poking out of the water

11/18 Lost Valley Prairie SNA, 2 hours: Hauled precut brush such as sumac and honeysuckle and maybe some sumac into giant piles that will be burned when there’s snow, followed by treating the stumps to try to prevent them from growing back.

a hand touching a dauber to freshly cut small stumps

12/16 Central Park Arboretum for City of Roseville, 1 hour: Cut, hauled, and treated buckthorn and honeysuckle.

snow scene with two medium-sized stumps, two small stumps, and lots of small broken branches and leaves

Other volunteer hours I’m not reporting:

  • White Bear Lake Seed Library: packaged seeds twice, but I worked on mostly tomatoes and not native plants
  • Pulling garlic mustard at a middle school softball game
  • Friends School Plant Sale: inventory three nights/afternoons, about five hours
  • Collecting and processing milkweed seeds from my own yard (even though I donated them)

Final tally

  • Friends of the Mississippi River: 6 events
  • Coldwater Spring / MNRRA: 4
  • Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary: 3
  • Dakota County Parks: 3
  • Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden: 2
  • Great River Greening: 2
  • Lost Valley Prairie SNA: 2
  • City of Roseville: 2
  • City of St. Paul: 2
  • Other: 4
  • Total: 30 events

New Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) visited

  • Grey Cloud Dunes SNA, Cottage Grove
  • Hastings Sand Coulee SNA, Hastings
  • Blanket Flower Prairie SNA
  • Lost 40 SNA (though that was just for fun, not volunteering)

Invasive species removed

  • Absinthe wormwood
  • Buckthorn
  • Burdock
  • Canadian horseweed
  • Cow vetch
  • Crown vetch
  • Curly dock
  • Dandelion
  • Garlic mustard
  • Leafy spurge
  • Mullein
  • Sumac

Seeds collected

  • Anise hyssop
  • Bee balm
  • Big bluestem
  • Black-eyed susan
  • Butterfly weed
  • Cinquefoil
  • Common milkweed
  • Golden Alexanders
  • Hoary vervain
  • Oak
  • Partridge pea
  • Purple prairie clover
  • Tick-trefoil
  • White prairie clover
  • Yellow coneflower

2017 service hours: 42.50. Travel: 14.25. Preparation: 0.00. Miles: 730.

2016 volunteer service


Harvesting milkweed seeds

Late this summer I decided to participate in a million milkweed challenge. A local environmental restoration organization asked volunteers to collect seeds from common milkweed, whorled milkweed, and butterfly weed, which will be used to grow plants and also used in seed mixes. Milkweed is vitally important because it’s the only thing that monarch caterpillars eat, and its flowers also attract other pollinators.

At one point in June, just one small section of our front yard looked like this, so in late autumn there were plenty of common milkweed pods to be found:

about 20 tightly packed common milkweed plants, all budding and blooming

Here are some

four brown milkweed pods pointing in three directions off one stem

and here are some

three brown milkweed pods, one pointing to the left and two stacked and pointing to the right

…though I decided to just leave this pod.

one green milkweed pod covered with mostly adult large milkweed bugs and a few larvae

I didn’t collect every last pod, especially leaving the ones that had already opened so the seeds were starting to fly, so there is plenty of seed left over in the yard to regenerate next year. I still ended up with a table full of ripe pods:

a round wire table, viewed from above, covered with about 175 milkweed pods

I decided to remove the seeds myself, rather than turn in pods, and that meant I had a lot of work to do. Since the collection process had taken place over several weeks, by the time I began working, not all the pods were in good shape anymore. Some had already opened and started to separate

closeup of several of the pods on the table, four of which are open to show brown seeds, and two that have seeds that have started to fly away

and some of the pods had gotten a little damp due to weather, so I found a few pods like this:

closeup of one open milkweed pod with white lines and three green spots within the brown seeds

Those squiggly lines aren’t worms, they are sprouts!

a similar pod from the side, taken apart with two seeds removed below to show that they have sprouted green growth

(I discarded pods like this and only included fresh seeds.)

To remove the seeds, I held on tightly to the “fluff” end of the pod, then scraped downward across the seeds to loosen them into the container.

a thumb pressing down on the end of a seed pod, above a container with seeds

This pod is going smoothly.

the same pod with a section of seeds removed to show white beneath

This one ended perfectly: all the seeds came off easily.

a hand holding a different pod, all the seeds removed so only the white strands are showing, neatly folded

But sometimes, no matter how tightly I held on, the seeds didn’t cooperate — and with not a lot of patience for picking up seeds one by one, when that happened, I set that pod, fluff, and seed aside.

a thumb holding a mess of fluff with seeds still attached

Wayward seeds still attached to their “parachutes” floated all over

a dozen white fluff balls scattered among fallen tree leaves on the ground

two milkweed seeds caught on zinnias

and once I realized just how many seeds were falling through the wire table down to the patio stones, I put on a tablecloth and caught quite a few that were missing the container.

another photo of tree leaves on the ground, but moved over to see patio stones covered in milkweed seeds

About three hours and 159 usable pods later, I had one gelato container filled to the brim:

side view of a clear plastic container completely full of brown seeds

And what I’m left with now is a bag half-full of fluff.

looking down into a brown paper bag with lots of milkweed fluff in the bottom, with more caught on the edges

I recently heard that a Canadian company is starting to make jackets using this for stuffing instead of down or synthetics. Maybe I could go into business! (Though at about one coat or pillow a year, it wouldn’t be a very lucrative business.) The fluff is super-soft.