My love of natural history and naturalism came to me later in life, so most of my knowledge of the plant kingdom comes to me day to day, I like to think I pick up something new everyday. Last weekend we walked through towering wild fields for hours, overflowing with black eyed susans and strange podded plants - I stuck a pod in ryans vest pocket (because girl clothes never have pockets, I will have to write a scathing article about it one day for fashion designers to read..) and looked up it's characteristics when I got home. Inside the pod was a gorgeous scale of seeds that made me think of pink koi fish, each connected to silk fiber - one pod gives you a decent mount of raw silk.
I learned that we had stumbled onto a giant milkweed garden of eden - and milkweed has alot of uses. Most fiber spinners/yarn makers use the fiber in the stems for bast spinning but the pods themselves have the shiny soft silk I had so fallen in love with. In WW2 the silk pod fiber was a favorite for military vests and is used frequently with or in substitution of Kapok for hypoallergenic stuffing in pillows and comforters (i love kapok, its the fuber I always use for my own pillows). Spinning it, however, is harder - the military wanted to use milkweed pod silk to spin the chords for their parachutes but it proved unseccessful, due to the fact that the silk strands are so short (in comparrison to other natural fibers). But they make a BEAUTIFUL addition to another fiber in a carded blend, like half angora half milkweek silk, youd spin such a beautiful yarn out of that blend!
So, this weekend has been spent collecting pods in baskets, shelling them, separating the silk and seeds (and dont throw those seeds away, store them in a jar for planting season (or if the weather is suitable toss them right there and then into your flowerbed or garden!) you will be giving something back to nature that you took, and also building yourself a nice, nice monarch butterfly garden (milkweed is the only thing the caterpillars will eat!).