Seed Pod Weed

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Official Blog of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County Collect butterfly weed seeds from the garden is fun and easy. Follow these steps to learn how to harvest butterfly weed seeds for planting next year. There?s a hitchhiker lurking in your car right now and you don?t even know it. Fortunately, it?s not the kind that might end up on the nightly news, but it?s almost as bad where the ecosystem is concerned. Learn more about hitchhiking weeds in this article.

Seed Pod Weed

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

I’ve become fascinated with this weed, at least so far. I’ve more-or-less got it under control in my garden. I really don’t remember it from years ago, but it sure has been a pest the last 5 years or so. Not a native of California, it is now here for the foreseeable future… and beyond. I can’t say it’s the worst weed in the garden, but it sure requires attention to keep it under control. Especially these days when it will be competing for available water.

Even if you didn’t recognize it outright, maybe you’ve had the experience of being out in the garden pulling winter weeds when you’re pulling what looks like a small “innocent” weed only to find it exploding seeds in your face and all over the nearby garden? The most likely culprit is Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), which starts growing almost immediately with the onset of the late winter rains. It originally looks like a small, flat rosette of small leaves and then in what seems like the next day, quickly produces small white, four-petal flowers on wiry green stems. Most of the problems with this weed can be “solved” if you pull it at this stage or at least before it flowers. Seemingly overnight, the flowers form needle-thin seed pods, which explode at the slightest touch, sending seeds in all directions (averaging around 600 seeds per plant… and the bigger the plant, even more seeds). Besides your garden, the seeds are easily propagated in cracks in flagstone, brick or concrete walkways.

Because Hairy Bittercress thrives in moist conditions and disturbed soil, it is also a pest in nurseries, and can be brought home via plant purchases. If you think that’s a problem for you, some cautious gardeners carefully remove the top inch or two of soil in the pots before planting. (If you do this, you should dispose of the scraped-off soil in your green can.)

If all else fails, Hairy Bittercress is a member of the mustard family and is edible, but you need to do your own research to find the right recipe to enjoy it (for an example, see http://www.eatingniagara.com/2013/04/weed-wednesday-make-that-hairy.html). To get ahead of its persistence in the garden, it’s definitely worth patrolling your garden for this weed once or twice a week during the winter and spring. It’s easy to hand pull when young. Once the seeds pop, you’ll be fighting a much bigger crop next year and it’s rare that herbicides would be considered appropriate for control in a home garden.

Another reason it’s my “favorite” weed? I still remember a fellow student in our Master Gardener class relating how she had “convinced” her young son to help weed the spring garden and he was complaining about the weed seeds popping in his face. She answered him by telling him to go in the house and get his safety goggles on and keep on weeding… something you might be considering adding to your gardening tools if you let Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) go to flower and reseed.

How To Harvest Butterfly Weed Seeds

Butterfly weed seeds are one of the easiest types of seeds to collect from the garden. In this post, I will show how to harvest butterfly weed seeds from your garden step-by-step, and also show you how to store them for next year.

Butterfly weed is one of my favorite plants that I have growing in my garden. Not only does it add amazing color to the garden, the butterflies flock to it. Plus, it’s a host plant for everyone’s favorite monarch butterfly.

Collecting butterfly weed seeds is easy, and doesn’t take much effort – you just need to get the timing right.

So below I’ll show you how to tell when butterfly weed seeds are ready to harvest, how to gather them, and what to do with them after you’re done collecting them.

Butterfly weed flower growing in my garden

Table of Contents

Harvesting Butterfly Weed Seeds

Butterfly weed is also one of the easiest seeds to collect from the garden. After the flowers fade on the plant, butterfly weed gets these gorgeous seed pods.

If you want to collect butterfly weed seeds from your garden, allow the seed pods to dry on the plant.

Butterfly weed seed pods

When To Harvest Butterfly Weed Seeds

When the seeds are ready to be harvested, butterfly weed seed pods will turn brown and start to break open on their own.

The seeds have puffs of cotton attached to them, which allows them to fly in the wind and seed themselves all around the neighborhood.

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So, make sure you collect the seeds as soon as the pods start to break open, or they may disappear on you.

Butterfly weed seeds ready to harvest

What Do Butterfly Weed Seeds Look Like

Butterfly weed seeds are flat, brown and shaped like a tear drop – and there are a ton of seeds in each seed pod.

Like I mentioned above, they are attached to white cotton, which can make the task of harvesting butterfly weed seeds a bit more tedious.

Butterfly weed seeds and chaff

How To Harvest Butterfly Weed Seeds Step-By-Step

Clip the seed pods off the plant and drop them into a container or bag. Don’t attempt to harvest butterfly weed seeds outside.

Otherwise every time the wind blows you’ll be chasing them down the street. Once you’ve collected the seed pods, bring them inside.

Collecting butterfly weed seed pods in a container

Like I said, it can be a bit tedious to harvest butterfly weed seeds, because of the fine fluffy stuff that’s attached to the seeds. So start by breaking open the seed pod.

Break open the seed pod to collect butterfly weed seeds

Then firmly grab the entire fuzzy clump and pull it out of the seed pod. Wait, don’t let go.

Gently pinch the seeds to tease them away from the fluffy stuff. It can be a messy job, so you might want to keep the vacuum on hand.

Collecting butterfly weed seeds can be messy

What To Do With Butterfly Weed Seeds After Harvesting

You can plant butterfly weeds seeds as soon as you harvest them, or you can store them for planting next year. Allow the seeds to dry out completely before storing them.

You can store your seeds in a plastic container (film canisters are the perfect size!), paper bag or seed envelope until spring.

I like to use a plastic shoe box to organize my seeds, or you can use a Seed Keeper.

Where To Find Butterfly Weed Seeds For Sale

It can be difficult to find butterfly weed seeds for sale, but many garden centers should carry them starting in mid-winter through early spring.

Otherwise you can always buy butterfly weed seeds online. Here are some great, quality seeds to get you started… Butterfly Weed Seeds.

If you want to learn how to grow your own seeds for your garden indoors, then my Starting Seeds Indoors eBook is perfect for you! It’s a quick-start guide that will have you growing your own seeds indoors in no time. Download your copy now!

More Posts About Saving Seeds

Share your tips for how to harvest butterfly weed seeds in the comments section below.

About Amy Andrychowicz

I live and garden in Minneapolis, MN (zone 4b). My green thumb comes from my parents, and I’ve been gardening most of my life. I’m a passionate gardener who loves growing everything from vegetables, herbs, and flowers to succulents, tropicals, and houseplants – you name, I’ve grown it! Read More.

Comments

I have a question. I was gifted with a bag of seed pods. They are still green. Can I leave them in the paper bag and will they dry out and be ready for planting? Sorry to be so dumb. I’m ;hoping they will dry out and I will be able to have wonderful butterfly bushes galore….to go along with my crocosmia plants.

Amy Andrychowicz says

If the pods are still green, then the butterfly weed seeds might not be viable. But it’s worth a try. If you have several of them, I would try cutting open a few of the green ones, removing the seeds, and letting those dry out. Then I would also try drying a few of the seed pods until they turn brown and brittle, then open them to collect the seeds. Good luck!

Steve Cochran says

I purchased Butterfly Weed seeds from the Seed Savers, and had them flower & produce seed pods their first year. Lookin forward to harvesting seeds and propagating this beautiful plant.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Wow, your butterfly weed plants flowered AND produced seed pods the first year after planting the seeds? That is amazing! Have fun collecting them for next year.

Thank you for the information on how to harvest butterfly weed seeds! Have a beautiful orange plant and want more!

Amy Andrychowicz says

You’re welcome! The seeds are very easy to collect (as long as you get to them before the wind does, LOL!). Enjoy!

Susan Sapp says

So I have cuttings from a butterfly weed perennial. I was hoping to be able to repurpose the flower or stem to plant in my garden at home. Am I out of luck? Will I have to buy the seeds to plant in the fall?

Amy Andrychowicz says

I have never tried rooting the cuttings myself, but I believe it is possible. Dust them with rooting hormone and stick them into soil. Keep the air humid, and the soil slightly moist. Otherwise, if you can get a butterfly weed seed pod from the same plant this fall, then you’ll have the seeds as a backup. Good luck!

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Barbara Murray says

I successfully planted a piece of orange butterfly weed last year. A small seedling, really just one small stem, grew from a seed that must have blown from my big plant. I have several of these small seedlings around my yard now, but never had any luck transplanting them. Last Fall I tried to transplant just for the heck of it, and finally a new plant came up this summer! It got quite a bit larger and bloomed beautifully, and I’m hoping it comes back next year.

If the milkweed bugs are now on my plants, does that mean the seeds I can see are no good?

Amy Andrychowicz says

Unfortunately milkweed bugs do feed on the seed pods and the seeds too. But if your butterfly weed seed pods and/or the seeds aren’t damaged, then they should be fine.

When do you plant the seeds in NE Ohio?

Amy Andrychowicz says

You can plant them either in the fall (directly in the garden) or early spring (either directly in the garden or indoors). They would also work with the winter sowing method, if you want to experiment with that.

Kyle R. Crocker says

I have a containerized butterfly plant that has done wonderfully this summer, and has many pods now. My worry . . . In northern Minnesota, frost is coming by later October. The pods are yet green and firm. I’d like to harvest ripened pods before I transplant the parent. This is a risk. Any advice?

P.S. I have already gathered Marsh Milkweed from the wild, nearly a month ago.

Amy Andrychowicz says

I would just leave the pods on your butterfly weed plant until they ripen. I don’t think transplanting it would make a difference. Also, butterfly weed plants are super hardy, so frost won’t hurt the plant or the seed pods.

I read somewhere that if you bring the seeds inside they need to be kept cold for an extended period of time to mimic winter conditions. So you know how cold or for how long?

Amy Andrychowicz says

I don’t think that butterfly weed seeds need cold stratification in order to germinate, but many other types of milkweed do. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to do it for your butterfly weed seeds though. You can just put them in a container the fridge for about a month, and that should do the trick.

Hi!
So first dry them out on a paper towel, then put them in fridge for a month, and then plant indoors in early spring?

Amy Andrychowicz says

Yep, that should work.

Dot Zimmerman says

How deep do you plant the seed? How many seed per area?

Amy Andrychowicz says

You don’t need to plant them very deep. The rule of thumb for planting seeds is to plant them twice as deep as the seed is wide. I would plant butterfly weed seeds maybe 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep. I would space them 2-3 inches apart, and then thin them so they are about 12-16″ apart once the seedlings start to mature. You can also just spread the seeds over the top of the dirt if you don’t want to be fussy about it. That’s the way Mother Nature does it.

Dot Zimmerman says

Patti Golliher says

Thank you for posting this information. I love attracting butterflys to my garden. I noticed the seed pods on my butterfly weed plant yesterday; I am excited to harvest the seeds so I can plant more plants next year.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Awesome! You’re welcome. Butterfly weed seeds are super easy to collect and grow. Have fun!

Susan CLARK says

Can the seeds be frozen to plant after I move to a new home?

Amy Andrychowicz says

Sure, but you don’t need to freeze your butterfly seeds to store them. It certainly wouldn’t hurt them though.

Amanda Hemmer says

Hello!
I just planted a monarch butterfly garden this spring and my butterfly weed turned out great! I noticed the seed pods and luckily found this website. The pods on one of the plants turned brown and I noticed one had started to crack open on the side. I assumed this meant it was ready for the seeds to be harvested. However, when I split open the pod what appeared to be the seed pods were white and there was no white fuzziness on the inside …. I’m worried I picked them too soon! Is there anything I can do to help them become healthy seeds?

Amanda Hemmer says

The seeds are white not seed pod, my bad!

Betty White says

It the seeds are white, why is the seeds shown on here, with the fluffy stuff, brown?

Amy Andrychowicz says

Butterfly weed seed are white first, and they turn brown as they mature. The white seeds are not mature enough to grow, so don’t harvest them until they turn brown.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Yes, unfortunately it does sound like you harvested your butterfly weed seeds too soon. It’s weird that the seed pods were brown and cracking open before the seeds were mature. Are there any other pods on the plant? If so, wait until the pods open up and the white cotton is starting to stick out before harvesting them. Otherwise, I think you’ll have to wait until next year. You could try planting the seeds you have and see if they’ll grow though, you never know.

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Mike the Gardener says

Awesome post! I always love reading posts on how to harvest/save seeds from a variety of plants that grow. A big one around here is milkweed. Milkweed seeds themselves are very expensive, which is weird because it grows in abundance along roadways here in NJ.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Thanks Mike! Yes, that is weird. They get tons of seeds too, and grow like a weed.

Betty White says

I have the orange butterfly flowers (weed) but I have never seen any pods come on mine. They have stopped blooming but I have never seen any pods. (Ohio) I am going out and check now but just looked at them a few days ago and no pods. WOW what a surprise. There is several little ones on the one plant and one larger one on the other. I have another plant in another part of my yard and I will check them. So how long should I leave the pods on the plant? The larger one is yellow but the other ones that are real small, are green.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Woohoo, how exciting! It can take a few months for butterfly weed seed pods to mature. They will turn brown and split open once the seeds are ready to harvest.

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Seeds That Stick To Clothing: Different Types Of Hitchhiker Plants

Even now, they’re lingering along the roadside waiting for you to pick them up and take them wherever you’re going. Some will ride inside your car, others on the chassis, and a few lucky ones will find their way into your clothing. Yes, weeds that spread by people, or hitchhiking, have certainly taken advantage of you this year. In fact, the average car carries two to four seeds for hitchhiker plants at any given time!

What are Hitchhiker Weeds?

Weed seeds spread in a variety of ways, whether traveling by water, air, or on animals. The group of weeds nicknamed the “hitchhikers” are seeds that stick to clothing and fur, making it difficult to dislodge them immediately. Their variously barbed adaptations ensure that the seeds will travel far and wide via animal locomotion, and most can be eventually shaken off down the road somewhere.

Although it might sound like all fun and games, the weeds spread by people are not only difficult to contain, but they’re also costly for everyone. Farmers lose an estimated $7.4 billion each year in productivity to eradicate these pest plants. Humans are spreading these seeds at a rate of 500 million to one billion seeds a year in cars alone!

Although the weeds within crop stands are annoying, those that appear in fields can be downright dangerous for grazing animals like horses and cattle.

Types of Hitchhiker Plants

There are at least 600 weed species that travel by hitchhiking with humans or on machines, 248 of which are considered noxious or invasive plants in North America. They come from every kind of plant, from herbaceous annuals to woody shrubs, and occupy every corner of the world. A few plants you might be familiar with include the following:

  • “Stick-tight” Harpagonella (Harpagonella palmeri)
  • “Beggerticks” (Bidens) (Krameria grayi) (Tribulus terrestris) (Opuntia bigelovii) (Torilis arvensis) (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) (Arctium minus) (Cynoglossum officinale) (Cenchrus)

You can help slow the spread of these hitchhikers by carefully inspecting your clothing and pets before emerging from a wild area full of seeding plants, making sure to leave those unwanted weeds behind. Also, reseeding disturbed areas like your garden plot with a cover crop can ensure that there’s too much competition for hitchhikers to thrive.

Once those weeds emerge, digging them out is the only cure. Make sure to get 3 to 4 inches (8-10 cm.) of root when the plant is young, or else it’ll grow back from root fragments. If your problem plant is already flowering or going to seed, you can clip it at the ground and carefully bag it for disposal – composting will not destroy many of these types of weeds.

Last, but not least, check your car any time you’ve been driving on unpaved roads or through muddy areas. Even if you don’t see any weed seeds, it wouldn’t hurt to clean your wheel wells, undercarriage, and any other location where seeds might be hitching a ride.

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