(p. A1) With its warts, a messy sap that can sicken livestock and a tendency to grow in tall, mangy clumps that crowd out other plants, milkweed doesn’t enjoy a history of immortalization in oil paint.
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(p. A10) Some makers of winter clothing are touting the white wispy floss in milkweed pods as a plant-based insulating material. Some forecasters say milkweed could yield $800 an acre this year, which Vermont farmers say is better than they get for most commodities.
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Jaunty enough for the city and practical enough for the weekend cabin, he says, the “refined Canadian parka” sells for $850, the same as Quartz’s duck-down jacket. He says down is still popular but milkweed attracts customers intrigued by a “plant-based” insulator. “We were shocked by the interest we got.”
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Milkweed’s sartorial use harks at least to World War II, when overseas supplies of kapok, an insulating fiber, were cut off. As a wartime substitute, the U.S. rallied civilians to pick milkweed pods for life jackets, says Gerald Wykes, a historian at the Monroe County Museum in Michigan.
After the war, for the most part milkweed went “back to its roots” as a humble weed, he says, because the ornery plant proved challenging to tame as a crop that could be grown in rows and harvested mechanically. The handpicking that went on in the war “wasn’t terribly efficient,” he says, and the rising use of synthetics lessened interest in all natural fibers.
Recently, says Ms. Darby, farmers have improved machinery that is designed to gently pick off milkweed pods without damaging the whole plant.
And milkweed has recently sprouted back into favor in some quarters because of its role not just as a green stuffing option but also as the key source of food for caterpillars of the embattled monarch butterfly.
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(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 27, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)