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Open access

Mary Lewis, Matthew Chappell, Donglin Zhang, and Rebekah Maynard

We documented a successful embryo rescue (ER) protocol for butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a member of the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae). Milkweed (Asclepias sp.) includes more than 100 species native to the United States, is an important pollinator plant, and has many commercially desirable traits. However, there is little commercial production outside of native plant nurseries because milkweed species are typically seed-grown and suffer from low seed set during pollination, late-term abortion of seed pods, and nonuniform germination. This project determined the optimal growing media (study one) and embryo maturity (study two) to recover mature seedlings from excised embryos and compared the results to those of traditional methods of seed germination (in soilless substrate). Study one investigated three different media: Murashige and Skoog (MS) medium at full strength and half strength and woody plant medium. MS medium at half strength was optimal for butterfly weed germination and maturation, with greater root and shoot lengths at the time of harvest. In study two, the effects of MS medium at half strength on embryo maturation 90, 60, and 30 days after pollination (DAP) were investigated. The optimal time to harvest embryos was 60 DAP; embryos at 30 DAP were capable of germination but not maturation. A mean germination rate of 97.4% was observed when using embryo rescue, but it was 72.3% with mature seed germinated in soilless substrate typical of commercial production. A similar increase in germination rates was observed for all embryo maturities when compared with seed germinated using soilless substrate. The protocol developed for this study should help to standardize production, reduce propagation time, and improve the commercial acceptance and profitability of milkweed.

Open access

Mary Lewis, Matthew Chappell, Paul A. Thomas, Rebekah C. Maynard, and Ockert Greyvenstein

Milkweed (Asclepias sp.) is an important pollinator genus across North America and is a host plant for many butterfly species, notably the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Commercial production of Asclepias is limited to a few species, because most species lack commercial traits, with minimal branching habit, excessive height, and minimal color variation. This study used a commercially viable Asclepias species, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa L.), as a maternal parent and trialed three different pollination methods in an attempt to create interspecific hybrids. Pollination methods included a traditional method, a pollen–solution-based method, and a novel inverted pollinia method. The inverted pollinia method increased pollination success rates 4-fold among intraspecific crosses of A. tuberosa. When pollination methods were optimized, A. tuberosa was used as the maternal parent, and one-way crosses were made to seven other Asclepias species using the inverted pollinia method. Of the seven species used as pollen donors, four developed hybrid seed successfully: green milkweed (Asclepias hirtella Woodson), purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens L.), showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa Torr.), and common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.). As germination methods vary significantly among Asclepias species, three methods of germination were trialed on seed developed via interspecific hybridizations: direct seeded, cold–moist stratification, and embryo rescue. Of the three methods, cold–moist stratification was superior to direct seeding and embryo rescue. This research is the first documented case of a controlled interspecific hybridization event among these species.