(Apocynum cannabinum) Dogbane family

Flowers - Greenish white, about 1/4 in. across, on short

pedicels, in dense clusters at ends of branches and from the

axils. Calyx of 5 segments; corolla nearly erect, bell-shaped,

5-lobed, with 5 small triangular appendages alternating with the

stamens within its tube. Stem: 1 to 4 ft. high, branching,

smooth, often dull reddish, from a deep, vertical root. Leaves:

Opposite, entire, 2 to 6 in. long, mostly oblong, abruptly

pointed, variable. Fruit: A pair of slender pods, the numerous

seeds tipped with tufts of hairs.

Preferred Habitat - Gravelly soil, banks of streams, low fields.

Flowering Season - June-August.

Distribution - Almost throughout the United States and British


Instead of setting a trap to catch flies and hold them by the

tongue in a vise-like grip until death alone releases them, as

its heartless sister the spreading dogbane does (q.v.), this

awkward, rank herb lifts clusters of smaller, less conspicuous,

but innocent, flowers, with nectar secreted in rather shallow

receptacles, that even short-tongued insects may feast without

harm. Honey and mining bees, among others; wasps and flies in

variety, and great numbers of the spangled fritillary (Argynnis

cybele) and the banded hair-streak (Thecla calanus) among the

butterfly tribe; destructive bugs and beetles attracted by the

white color, a faint odor, and liberal entertainment, may be seen

about the clusters. Many visitors are useless pilferers, no

doubt; but certainly the bees which depart with pollen masses

cemented to their lips or tongues, to leave them in the stigmatic

cavities of the next blossoms their heads enter, pay a fair price

for all they get.

>From the fact that Indians used to substitute this very common

plant's tough fiber for hemp in making their fishnets, mats,

baskets, and clothing, came its popular name; and from their use

of the juices to poison mangy old dogs about their camps, its

scientific one.


(Asclepias verticillata) Milkweed family

Flowers - White or greenish, on short pedicels, in several small

terminal clusters. Calyx inferior; corolla deeply 5-parted, the

oblong segments turned back; a 5-parted, erect crown of hooded

nectaries between them and the stamens, each shorter than the

incurved horn within. Stem: 1 to 2 1/2 ft. tall, simple or

sparingly branched, hairy, leafy to summit, containing milky

juice. Leaves: In upright groups, very narrow, almost

thread-like, from 3 to 7 in each whorl. Fruit: 2 smooth, narrow,

spindle-shaped, upright pods, the seeds attached to silky fluff;

1 pod usually abortive.

Preferred Habitat - Dry fields, hills, uplands.

Flowering Season - July-September.

Distribution - Maine and far westward, south to Florida and


In describing the common milkweed (q.v.), so many statements were

made that apply quite as truly to this far daintier and more

ethereal species, the reader is referred back to the pink and

magenta section. Compared with some of its rank-growing, heavy

relatives, how exquisite is this little denizen of the uplands,

with its whorls of needle-like leaves set at intervals along a

slender swaying stem! The entire plant, with its delicate foliage

and greenish-white umbels of flowers, rather suggests a member of

the carrot tribe; and much the same class of small-sized,

short-tongued visitors come to seek its accessible nectar as we

find about the parsnips, for example. When little bees alight -

and these are the truest benefactors, however frequently larger

bees, wasps, flies, and even the almost useless butterflies come

around - their feet slip about within the low crown to find a

secure lodging. As they rise to fly away after sucking, the

pollen masses which have attached themselves to the hairs on the

lower part of their legs are drawn out, to be transferred to

other blossoms, perhaps today, perhaps not for a fortnight.

Annoying as they may be, it is very rarely, indeed, that an

insect can rid itself of the pollen masses carried from either

orchids or milkweeds, except by the method Nature intended; and

it is not until the long-suffering bee is outrageously loaded

that he attains his greatest usefulness to milkweed blossoms. "Of

ninety-two specimens bearing corpuscula of Asclepias

verticillata," says Professor Robertson, "eighty-eight have them

on hairs alone, and four on the hairs and claws." And again: "As

far as the mere application of pollen to an insect is concerned,

a flower with loose pollen has the advantage. But the advantage

is on the side of Asclepias after the insect is loaded with it.

It is only a general rule that insects keep to flowers of a

particular species on their honey and pollen gathering

expeditions. If a bee dusted with loose pollen visits flowers of

another species, it will not long retain pollen in sufficient

quantity to effectually fertilize flowers of the original

species. On the other hand, if an insect returns at any time

during the day, or even after a few days, to the species of

Asclepias from which it got a load of pollinia, it may bring with

it all or most of the pollinia which it has carried from the

first plants visited. The firmness with which the pollinia keep

their hold on the insect is one of the best adaptations for


Ants, the worst pilferers of nectar extant, find the hairy stem

of the whorled milkweed, as well as its sticky juice, most

discouraging, if not fatal, obstacles to climbing. How daintily

the goldfinch picks at the milkweed pods and sets adrift the

seeds attached to silky aeronautic fluff!

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