(Apocynum androsaemifolium) Dogbane family

Flowers - Delicate pink, veined with a deeper shade, fragrant,

bell-shaped, about 1/3 in. across, borne in loose terminal cymes.

Calyx 5-parted; corolla of 5 spreading, recurved lobes united

into a tube; within the tube 5 tiny, triangular appendages

alternate with stamens; the arrow-shaped anthers united around

the stigma and slightly adhering to it. Stem: 1 to 4 ft. high,

with forking, spreading, leafy branches. Leaves: Opposite,

entire-edged, broadly oval, narrow at base, paler, and more or

less hairy below. Fruit: Two pods about 4 in. long.

Preferred Habitat - Fields, thickets, beside roads, lanes, and


Flowering Season - June-July.

Distribution - Northern part of British Possessions south to

Georgia, westward to Nebraska.

Everywhere at the North we come across this interesting, rather

shrubby plant, with its pretty but inconspicuous little

rose-veined bells suggesting pink lilies-of-the-valley. Now that

we have learned to read the faces of flowers, as it were, we

instantly suspect by the color, fragrance, pathfinders, and

structure that these are artful wilers, intent on gaining ends of

their own through their insect admirers. What are they up to?

Let us watch. Bees, flies, moths, and butterflies, especially the

latter, hover near. Alighting, the butterfly visitor unrolls his

long tongue and inserts it where the five pink veins tell him to,

for five nectar-bearing glands stand in a ring around the base of

the pistil. Now, as he withdraws his slender tongue through one

of the V-shaped cavities that make a circle of traps, he may

count himself lucky to escape with no heavier toll imposed than

pollen cemented to it. This granular dust he is required to rub

off against the stigma of the next flower entered. Some bees,

too, have been taken with the dogbane's pollen cemented to their

tongues. But suppose a fly call upon this innocent-looking

blossom? His short tongue, as well as the butterfly's, is guided

into one of the V-shaped cavities after he has sipped; but,

getting wedged between the trap's horny teeth, the poor little

victim is held a prisoner there until he slowly dies of

starvation in sight of plenty. This is the penalty he must pay

for trespassing on the butterfly's preserves! The dogbane, which

is perfectly adapted to the butterfly, and dependent upon it for

help in producing fertile seed, ruthlessly destroys all poachers

that are not big or strong enough to jerk away from its vise-like

grasp. One often sees small flies and even moths dead and

dangling by the tongue from the wicked little charmers. If the

flower assimilated their dead bodies as the pitcher plant, for

example, does those of its victims, the fly's fate would seem

less cruel. To be killed by slow torture and dangled like a

scarecrow simply for pilfering a drop of nectar is surely an

execution of justice medieval in its severity.

In July the most splendid of our native beetles, the green dandy

(Eumolpus auratus) fastens itself to the dogbane's foliage in

numbers until often the leaves appear to be studded with these

brilliant little jewels. "It is not easy," says William Hamilton

Gibson, "to describe its burnished hue, which is either

shimmering green, or peacock blue, or purplish-green, or

refulgent ruby, according to the position in which it rests." But

it is not golden, as its specific name would imply. It confines

itself exclusively to the dogbane. To prevent capture, it has a

trick of drawing up its legs and rolling off into the grass its

body so cleverly matches.

>From the silky coma on which the small seeds float away from long

pods to found new colonies, from the opposite leaves, milky

juice, and certain structural resemblances in the flowers, one

might guess this plant belonged to the milkweed tribe. Formerly

it was so classed; and although the botanists have now removed

its family one step away, the milkweed butterflies, especially

the Monarch (Anosia plexippus), ignoring the arbitrary dividing

line of man, still includes the dogbane on its visiting list. We

know that this plant derived its name from the fact that it was

considered poisonous to dogs; and we also know that all the tribe

of milkweed butterflies are provided with protective secretions

which are distasteful to birds and predaceous insects, enjoying

their immunity from attack, it is thought, from the acrid,

poisonous character of the foliage on which the caterpillars



(Asclepias Syriaca; A. cornuti of Gray) Milkweed family

Flowers - Dull pale greenish purple pink, or brownish pink, borne

on pedicels, in many flowered, broad umbels. Calyx inferior,

5-parted; corolla deeply 5-cleft, the segments turned backward.

Above them an erect, 5-parted crown, each part called a hood,

containing a nectary, and with a tooth on either side, and an

incurved horn projecting from within. Behind the crown the short,

stout stamens, united by their filaments in a tube, are inserted

on the corolla. Broad anthers united around a thick column of

pistils terminating in a large, sticky, 5-angled disk. The anther

sacs tipped with a winged membrane; a waxy, pear-shaped

pollen-mass in each sac connected with the stigma in pairs or

fours by a dark gland, and suspended by a stalk like a pair of

saddle-bags. Stem: Stout, leafy, usually unbranched, 3 to 5 ft.

high, juice milky. Leaves: Opposite, oblong, entire-edged smooth

above, hairy below, 4 to 9 in. long. Fruit: 2 thick, warty pods,

usually only one filled with compressed seeds attached to tufts

of silky, white, fluffy hairs.

Preferred Habitat - Fields and waste places, roadsides.

Flowering Season - June-September

Distribution - New Brunswick, far westward and southward to North

Carolina and Kansas.

After the orchids, no flowers show greater executive ability,

none have adopted more ingenious methods of compelling insects to

work for them than the milkweeds. Wonderfully have they perfected

their mechanism in every part until no member of the family even

attempts to fertilize itself; hence their triumphal, vigorous

march around the earth, the tribe numbering over nineteen hundred

species located chiefly in those tropical and warm, temperate

regions that teem with insect life.

Commonest of all with us is this rank weed, which possesses the

dignity of a rubber plant. Much more attractive to human eyes, at

least, than the dull, pale, brownish-pink umbels of flowers are

its exquisite silky seed-tufts. But not so with insects. Knowing

that the slightly fragrant blossoms are rich in nectar, bees,

wasps, flies, beetles, and butterflies come to feast. Now, the

visitor finding his alighting place slippery, his feet claw about

in all directions to secure a hold, just as it was planned they

should for in his struggles some of his feet must get caught in

the fine little clefts at the base of the flower. His efforts to

extricate his foot only draw it into a slot at the end of which

lies a little dark-brown body. In a newly opened flower five of

these little bodies may be seen between the horns of the crown,

at equal distances around it. This tiny brown excrescence is hard

and horny, with a notch in its face. It is continuous with and

forms the end of the slot in which the visitor's foot is caught.

Into this he must draw his foot or claw, and finding it rather

tightly held, must give a vigorous jerk to get it free. Attached

to either side of the little horny piece is a flattened yellow

pollen-mass, and so away he flies with a pair of these pollinia,

that look like tiny saddle-bags, dangling from his feet. One

might think that such rough handling as many insects must submit

to from flowers would discourage them from making any more

visits; but the desire for food is a mighty passion. While the

insect is flying off to another blossom, the stalk to which the

saddlebags are attached twists until it brings them together,

that, when his feet get caught in other slots, they may be in the

position to get broken off in his struggles for freedom precisely

where they will fertilize the stigmatic chambers. Now the visitor

flies away with the stalks alone sticking to his claws.

Bumblebees and hive-bees have been caught with a dozen

pollen-masses dangling from a single foot. Outrageous imposition!

Does this wonderful mechanism always work to perfection? Alas!

no. It is a common thing to find dead hive-bees and flies hanging

from the flowers. While still struggling to escape, the unhappy

victims will be attacked by ants, beetles, and spiders, or killed

by heavy showers. Larger and stronger insects than honeybees are

required to regularly effect pollination and free themselves,

especially when they are so unfortunate as to catch several feet

in the grooves. Doubtless it is the bumblebee that can transfer

pollen with impunity; but very many other insects, not perfectly

adapted to the flowers, occasionally benefit them. Among the

large butterflies the Papilios, which suck with their wings in

motion, are the most useful, because in using their legs to

offset the motion of their wings they rapidly repeat those

movements which are necessary to draw the pollinia from the

anther cells and insert them in the stigmatic chambers of other

flowers. "Large butterflies like Danais," says Professor

Robertson, "hold their wings still in sucking, spending more time

on an umbel, but generally carrying pollinia. Small butterflies

are worse than useless. They remain long on the umbels sucking,

but resting their feet superficially on the flowers.

Since several moths were found entrapped, pollination must often

be brought about by night-flying Lepidoptera. As a rule, Diptera

(flies) either do not transfer pollinia at all, or become

hopelessly entangled when they do. "Occasionally pollen-masses

are found on the tongues of insects, especially on those of bees

and wasps, which move about with their unruly member sticking

out. Probably no one has ever made the exhaustive and absorbingly

interesting study of the milkweeds that Professor Robertson has.

Better than any written description of the milkweed blossom's

mechanism is a simple experiment. If you have neither time nor

patience to sit in the hot sun, magnifying glass in hand, and

watch for an unwary insect to get caught, take an ordinary

housefly, and hold it by the wings so that it may claw at one of

the newly opened flowers from which no pollinia have been

removed. It tries frantically to hold on, and with a little

direction it may be led to catch its claws in the slots of the

flower. Now pull it gently away, and you will find a pair of

saddlebags slung over his foot by a slender curved stalk. If you

are rarely skilful, you may induce your fly to withdraw the

pollinia from all five slots on as many of his feet. And they are

not to be thrown or scraped off, let the fly try as hard as he

pleases. You may now invite the fly to take a walk on another

flower in which he will probably leave one or more pollinia in

its stigmatic cavities.

Dr. Kerner thought the milky juice in milkweed plants, especially

abundant in the uppermost leaves and stems, serves to protect the

flowers from useless crawling pilferers. He once started a number

of ants to climb up a milky stalk. When they neared the summit,

he noticed that at each movement the terminal hooks of their feet

cut through the tender epiderm, and from the little clefts the

milky juice began to flow, bedraggling their feet and the hind

part of their bodies. "The ants were much impeded in their

movements," he writes, "and in order to rid themselves of the

annoyance, drew their feet through their mouths. Their movements

however, which accompanied these efforts, simply resulted in

making fresh fissures and fresh discharges of milky juice, so

that the position of the ants became each moment worse and worse.

Many escaped by getting to the edge of a leaf and dropping to the

ground. Others tried this method of escape too late, for the air

soon hardened the milky juice into a tough brown substance, and

after this, all the strugglings of the ants to free themselves

from the viscid matter were in vain." Nature's methods of

preserving a flower's nectar for the insects that are especially

adapted to fertilize it, and of punishing all useless intruders,

often shock us yet justice is ever stern, ever kind in the

largest sense.

If the asclepias really do kill some insects with their juice,

others doubtless owe their lives to it. Among the "protected"

insects are the milkweed butterflies and their caterpillars,

which are provided with secretions that are distasteful to birds

and predaceous insects. "These acrid secretions are probably due

to the character of the plants upon which the caterpillars feed,"

says Dr. Holland, in his beautiful and invaluable "Butterfly

Book." "Enjoying on this account immunity from attack, they have

all, in the process of time, been mimicked by species in other

genera which have not the same immunity." "One cannot stay long

around a patch of milkweeds without seeing the monarch butterfly.

(Anosia plexippus), that splendid, bright, reddish-brown winged

fellow, the borders and veins broadly black, with two rows of

white spots on the outer borders and two rows of pale spots

across the tip of the fore wings. There is a black scent-pouch on

the hind wings. The caterpillar, which is bright yellow or

greenish yellow, banded with shining black, is furnished with

black fleshy 'horns' fore and aft."

Like the dandelion, thistle, and other triumphant strugglers for

survival, the milkweed sends its offspring adrift on the winds to

found fresh colonies afar. Children delight in making pompons for

their hats by removing the silky seed-tufts from pods before they

burst, and winding them, one by one, on slender stems with fine

thread. Hung in the sunshine, how charmingly fluffy and soft they


Among the comparatively few butterfly flowers - although, of

course, other insects not adapted to them are visitors - is the

PURPLE MILKWEED (A. purpurasceus), whose deep magenta umbels are

so conspicuous through the summer months. Hummingbirds

occasionally seek it too. From Eastern Massachusetts to Virginia,

and westward to the Mississippi, or beyond, it is to be found in

dry fields, woods, and thickets.

The SWAMP MILKWEED (A. incarnata), on the other hand, rears its

intense purplish-red or pinkish hoods in wet places. Its leaves

are lance-shaped or oblong-lanceolate, whereas the purple

milkweed's leaves are oblong or ovate-oblong. This is a smooth

plant; and a similar species once reckoned as a mere variety (A.

pulchra) is the HAIRY MILKWEED. It differs chiefly in having some

hairs on the under side of its leaves, and a great many hairs on

its stem. Both plants bear erect, rather slender, tapering pods.

The POKE or TALL MILKWEED (A. exaltata - A. phytolaecoides of

Gray) may attain a height of six feet if the moist soil in which

it grows be exactly to its liking. Drooping or spreading umbels

of flowers whose corolla segments are pale purplish green, and

whose crown is clear ivory white or pink, appear from June to

August from Maine to Georgia and far westward. Sometimes the

tapering oblong leaves may be nine inches long. The erect

seedpods are drawn out to an unusually long point.

One may always distinguish the low-growing FOUR-LEAVED MILKWEED

(A. quadrifolia) from its relatives of ranker growth by its

general air of refinement, as well as by the two pairs of thin,

tapering leaves that grow in an upright whorl near the middle of

the slender stem. Usually there are no leaves on the lower part.

Small terminal umbels of delicate pink and white fragrant

flowers, which appear from May till July, give place to very

narrow pointed pods in late summer. From Maine to Ontario

southward to North Carolina and Arkansas is its range, in woods

and thickets chiefly.