Apocynum cannabinum (dogbane)

Apocynum cannabinnum

Before it flowers, Apocynum cannabinum is reminiscent of milkweeds in its stature and foliage, and in the fact that it contains a milky latex. But as the clusters of small, white flowers appear and, later, as the drooping bean-like seed pods develop, dogbane makes itself fairly easily recognized.

The leaves are broadly elliptic, with pointed ends, rounded bases, and short to absent petioles. The upper surface is bald and medium green; the underleaf is paler green or slightly whitish. The edges are not toothed, and the leaves are arranged oppositely on the stem. The stem is bald and light green at first, becoming brownish red; as the plant grows it develops many branches.

Flowers appear in rounded-topped clusters at the ends of branches. Individual flowers are quite small, and have 5 white petals arising from a light green base. before they have opened the flowers look like tiny whitish eggs sitting on greenish stands.

Seed pods, reminiscent of green beans, develop after the flowers, reaching about 6–7 inches in length. The seedpods droop straight down, and become red to brown with age.

The stature of dogbane is, at maturity, like that of a fairly tall bush; plants grow to 4 feet high or more. Young plants, however, are more or less unbranching.

Habitat for dogbane is often in wet areas like ditches and lowlands, where stands of it can spread out quite far—but it also appears in dry habitats.


Why "dogbane?" Because, according to Pliny the Elder (77–79 AD), the seeds of the European version of the plant, when "given in their food with water," are "poisonous to dogs and all other quadrupeds." A footnote in the 1856 translation of Pliny by J. Bostock & H. T. Riley says of Pliny's statement: "This is the fact; and hence one of its names 'cyanche,' or 'dog-strangle.'" God only knows what European plant old toga-clad Pliny had in mind 2000 years ago—but Apocynum cannabinum is reported as poisonous by contemporary, reliable, North American sources.

Another common name for the plant is "hemp" or "Indian hemp" because it was used by Native Americans for its fibers (thus, also, the epithet cannabinum in the scientific name).

Similar plants include the milkweeds, before flowers have developed, and the closely related Apocynum androsaemifolium, or "spreading dogbane," which is a lower, more sprawling plant that tends to grow in drier areas and has flowers with pink lines on the inside.

Range of Apocynum cannabinum

midwestern range

Apocynum cannabinum
young, unbranching plant

Apocynum cannabinum
opposite leaf arrangement

Apocynum cannabinum


Apocynum cannabinum
flower clusters, and a margined leatherwing

Apocynum cannabinum
flower buds


Apocynum cannabinum
developing flowers


Apocynum cannabinum
mature flowers

Apocynum cannabinum
young seed pods


Apocynum cannabinum
maturing seed pods


Chrysochus auratus
Chrysochus auratus (dogbane beetle)

Chrysochus auratus, the dogbane beetle, is easily recognized by its metallic green and bronze colors and its long, blue-black antennae. It associates with dogbane and with milkweeds (Asclepias spp.).

References: Jones 1971, Bland & Jaques 1978, Arnett et al. 1980, Milne & Milne 1980, Jones 2005, Kershaw 2007, Voss & Reznicek 2012, Mohlenbrock 2014, Hilty 2017.

Kuo, Michael & Melissa Kuo (July, 2017). Apocynum cannabinum (dogbane). Retrieved from the midwestnaturalist.com website: www.midwestnaturalist.com/apocynum_cannabinum.html

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