Spreading Dogbane

Apocynum androsaemifolium

Species distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Milky sap when broken
  • Drooping leaves and flower clusters
  • Opposite, egg-shaped leaves
  • Clusters of light pink flowers that curl back at tips

Family Characteristics: 

  • Clusters of flowers with 5 united, funnel-shaped petals
  • Milky sap when broken
  • Opposite, undivided leaves
  • Many seeds that often have a tuft of hair attached at one end
  • Most are poisonous to some degree

Growth habitat: 

Perennial herb, 20–100 cm tall, that forms colonies from rhizomes.

Leaves and stems: 

Foliage exudes a milky sap when broken.  Erect, widely branching or spreading stems that often have a reddish tint.  Shortstalked, oval or egg-shaped leaves with entire margins.  Droopy leaves are hairless on top, and pale and usually hairy on the bottom.  Leaves are one of the first plants in our area to change color and turn bright yellow or red in late summer.

Flowers: 

Small, 5–10 mm long, light pink or whitish, bell–shaped flowers in few-flowered clusters on top of stem and the side of branches.  Flowers have 5 flaring petal lobes that curl back at the tips.  Sepals beneath the flower tube are half as long as the flower.  Very sweet fragrance.  Deeper pink veins inside the flower are honey guides to lead insects inside for pollination.

Roots: 

Smooth, straight, creeping underground roots, or rhizomes.  Form connected colonies of plants.

Seeds: 

Slender, brown, cylindrical pods, 8–12 cm long, are paired and united at the base.  Each hanging pod splits lengthwise when mature to reveal numerous seeds that have a tuft of soft silky, long hair.

Habitat preferences: 

Prefers full sun and rocky, well-drained soil.  Meadows, open forest, roadsides, ridges, and slopes at low- to mid-elevations.

Interesting facts: 

Attracts a wide variety of butterflies (Lepidoptera spp.) and bees (Apoidea spp.).  A tea of the roots applied externally stimulates hair growth.  Also used with caution by skilled herbalists as a strong cardiac stimulant that slows and strengthens the heartbeat and raises blood pressure.  Native American tribes dried stalks and plaited the resultant durable fiber into cordage for use in fishnets, bowstrings, basket weaving, and for sewing tipi covers and other materials.  Spreading dogbane fibers are inferior to the longer, stronger fibers produced by clasping-leaf dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum).

Biological Classification: