There is great concern about the decrease in the migratory population of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the USA. Monarchs are in decline in part due to herbicides killing milkweed (Asclepias spp.). One thing we can do to assist is to plant milkweed, the host for the monarch caterpillar. First, seed pods must be collected from the plants at the end of their growing season when they are completely dried out, but before the pods have let go the seeds. Second, the seeds should be separated from the floss, which normally functions in dispersal by wind. The purpose of this instructable is to demonstrate a simple method of separating the seeds on a small scale. For a large scale separator (trash can size), see the MonarchWatch web site here.
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Step 1: Materials
-Milkweed seed pods
-One-gallon plastic container with a wide-mouth lid
-Bouncy balls -- small
-Container to collect the seeds
Step 2: De-Podding
Remove the seeds from the seed pods. Use caution when handling the seeds; the fine hairs of the floss can be inhaled easily so you may want to wear a face mask to cover your nose and mouth. Chronic inhalation of such materials can lead to a lung disease known as pneumoconiosis.
Step 3: Loading the Separator
Place the seeds in the plastic container with the bouncy balls and put the lid on.
Step 4: Shake Time
Shake the plastic container vigorously, causing the bouncy balls to separate the seeds from the floss. This may take a few minutes to separate the majority of the seeds from the floss. On the other hand, don't overdo it. Shaking too long just breaks the floss into tinier bits. We learned to use the balls rather than nuts and bolts because the metal agitators break up the floss too much. The seeds will accumulate in the bottom of the container, as seen at the end of the video.
Step 5: Removing Seeds
The seeds should accumulate in the bottom of the container. To remove the seeds, remove the bouncy balls first, then with one hand, move the floss to one side of the container whilst tilting the bottom up. Pour the seeds into the plastic bag or other container in which you want to collect the seeds.
Take note that this method is not 100 percent efficient, as you may see some seeds still connected to the floss after you are finished. It is, however, much less time consuming than separating the seeds from the floss individually by hand.
For easy disposal of the floss, spray or soak it in water. That will keep the little hairs from flying about. Then dispose of as you wish.
Note that the seeds must be stratified in order to germinate, but that is a topic you can read about here.
This instructable was prepared by my Environmental Science class, including Ari Harris, Kate Haliotis, Chet Donath, Caroline Veihl, and Aury Randolph.