Milkweed fruits are called follicles, and they look like an inflated, puffy case that naturally splits open when it is mature to release hundreds of small seeds. Common milkweed, a species native to the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada, produces large, bumpy follicles.
All of the photos in this entry were taken by me.
The fibers on the milkweed seeds are hollow and repel water yet absorb four times more oil than the current synthetic material used to absorb oil spills (polypropylene). This means that after the fiber is separated from the seeds, it can be stuffed into "socks" that can be deployed for an oil spill on land or in the water. Encore-3 is assembling the socks into kits that can absorb 200 liters of oil. The company has a contract with Canada's national parks, and will supply 50 parks with the absorbent socks to use at their gas stations or areas with petroleum products nearby.
Growing large fields of common milkweed has another environmentally-friendly benefit - it supplies host plants for monarch butterflies! The product's creator said after growing this year's milkweed crop, "There were so many butterflies in the field that people on the road … had to stop," he says. "They were wondering what was happening." I checked out the company's website, and was happy to see that they do not use insecticide on their milkweed, and they harvest the seeds after monarchs have migrated south, so that no monarch eggs or caterpillars were harmed.
Here is Encore-3's website, with data sheets for their products, and a page about the benefits to monarchs on the right sidebar: