Seed dispersing from a climbing milkweed vine

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shown here is half of a climbing milkweed vine seedpod releasing the last of its seed to the wind. The other half of the pod has already dried and fallen away on its own. Inside the remaining half section you can see fish scale-like markings revealing that the pod was once filled with many seeds. Each seed has white silky hairs attached to it that allow the wind to carry the seed away.

The climbing milkweed vine grows wild and is native to much of the southeastern U.S. Its blooms are clusters of small white flowers. It is a perennial plant with dark green elongated heart-shaped leaves on a hairless twining vine. The woody vines can grow to at least 10 feet long. The leaves have distinctive white veins.

A young climbing milkweed vine can easily be misidentified as a morning glory, but the flowers look different and morning glory leaves do not exhibit white veins. Adding to the confusion implied by its name, the climbing milkweed vine does not look like a milkweed nor do its leaves or stem secrete milky sap when the skin is broken.

But there is at least one strong similarity to the milkweed plant. The seeds of both plants are dispersed by wind and some kinds of milkweed plants even have seedpods and seeds that look much like those of the climbing milkweed vine.

A dried half of the climbing milkweed vine's seedpod is woodlike and makes a curious little sailing ship for a child when a small lightweight sail is glued to it. You might find a seedpod still clinging to its vine in late winter by looking along a roadside ditch overgrown with brush.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.

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