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By the time summer arrives, the seasonal blooms will be in full view and the dandelion clocks will be ticking. The region's pastures are spread with a benign weed called dogbane. Blossoms invade the low-lying shrub sward, with green spirally tendrils extending well into the pastures.This perennial stands up to 2 feet tall, and the red stem branches multiple times giving it a wide-spreading appearance. Each branch is lined with opposite leaves that droop down. At the end of the branches are clusters of fragrant flowers. The flowers are small (just over ¼ inch wide), bell-shaped, and white with light pink stripes. Each flower produces 2 slender pods that release numerous small seeds tipped by a tuft of cottony hairs that aid in wind dispersal. Spreading dogbane, as the name suggests, tends to spread from underground rhizomes and form distinct patches. Although it is native to North America, in some areas it is considered a nuisance weed.
If you break a spreading dogbane stem or leaf, you will see that the plant contains a bitter, sticky, milky white sap. The sap contains cardiac glycosides that are toxic to humans. The root also contains a potent cardiac stimulant, cymarin. These toxic compounds help protect spreading dogbane from grazing animals. Despite its toxicity, the plant has been used medicinally for a variety of ailments. However, this plant is best enjoyed for its beauty and not as a medicine. Native Americans used the tough fibers of this and other native dogbanes to make threads and cord. The shape and color of Spreading Dogbane's flowers provide keys to identifying it and distinguishing it from its close relative, Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum). Indian Hemp, which is also found in many counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line, has white, green-white, or yellow petals which are not recurving at the tips; and its flowers are upright instead of nodding.
Names: It was the Greek writer of the 1st century, Dioscorides, who provided the Greek name “apokynon” from which comes the generic name Apocynum, and means "away from dog" - referencing the plants toxic nature if eaten by dogs, and thus - 'Dogbane'. Dioscorides, in naming a plant with red sap, also provided the species name, androsaemifolium. It begins with the two original Greek words meaning 'man's blood' and then translated to the Latin becomes 'androsaemum'. The 'folium' part of it means 'leaves of'. In total this can be said to be a reference to a plant with leaves that would have reddish juice. Some also have interpreted it as the reddish stain you get on your fingers if you crush together the flowers. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. (Source:www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org)