Milkweed Seed Separator

About: I like to build useful things, especially by repurposing objects.

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.

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    5 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Why is it necessary to remove the floss? Can you not just take the whole pod to a field, open and scatter the seeds there?

    3 replies
    Show Me Joebeamerpook

    Reply 3 years ago

    You could. This method is designed to reduce the volume of the seeds for convenient storage, stratification and possibly shipping. As you see, the gallon of intact seeds with floss is reduced to a handful.

    beamerpookShow Me Joe

    Reply 3 years ago

    Yes, I suppose that would be useful for storage and shipping purposes. However, I have heard some people say stratification can be bypassed if you plant the seeds in the fall, and let it go through natural stratification during the winter and spring. If this is true, (I'm not an expert gardener, just a lazy one :P ) wouldn't it be more efficient to keep the floss on so that the wind can disperse the seeds naturally?

    Show Me Joebeamerpook

    Reply 3 years ago

    Yes, this method is obviously for situations when you want to control where they are planted.


    3 years ago

    Nice! I'll give this a shot ext time I mail seeds from my plant to friends.