Nothing delights young children like scattering milkweed seed around the prairie. With a little breeze, the seeds float like soap bubbles up and away from their hands.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) infests disturbed areas, roadsides, and even cultivated fields, quickly growing tall stems loaded with fragrant, pink blossoms loaded with nectar. Despite its prodigious flower production, each plant may bear only a few pods, but those pods are loaded with seeds, each attached to a silk parachute.
With a little help from the wind, the mass of seeds in the pod begin to separate individually, spread their silken threads, and migrate off into the breeze, hopefully landing some distance away to colonize new territory.
Milkweed seed floss has been used as stuffing for pillows, quilts, even life jackets, when kapok was in short supply during WW2. Apparently it is more buoyant than cork. It was once carried as tinder for starting fires, and is regularly used as background for showing off the Monarch butterflies whose larvae feed on milkweed leaves. Its most popular use in our family, however, is for entertaining grandchildren who get bored on a hike through the prairie.