Friday, October 8, 2010

October 8: Milkweed Fluff

This afternoon dark clouds rolled in on a wave of high winds, obscuring the sun. One minute crows were calmly grazing on the lawn. The next, birch trees were swaying wildly and the crows had spun into the air and sailed away. The air swirled with loose leaves that had been all ready to fall, along with what looked like snow flakes. I had heard this front coming in was supposed to bring us a chilly evening, but snow seemed a bit extreme.

I quickly realized that the answer blowing in the wind was milkweed fluff. Some of the many milkweed pods in the yard had begun to desiccate and crack open. The silken threads that carry the seeds far and wide were caught up in the strong gusts of wind and blown into the air in multiple explosions of starry white fluff--a gentle precursor of snow falls to come.

In trying to find a more scientific name for milkweed fluff, I learned some useful and interesting things. The silk seed "parachutes" are apparently waterproof. Also, they've been collected and used for centuries to stuff pillows and mattresses. During World War Two, kids amassed huge quantities of them to fill coats and life jackets for soldiers. A spinner says the fluff can be spun into a fine thread. I knew milkweed was valuable as part of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. But who knew how useful it could be for humans? In this age of synthetic fibers, I guess such knowledge is easily lost. In any case, it seems most people just refer to milkweed fluff as "fluff."

Hard to imagine
how this snow shower of fluff
will become a field.

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