Dogbane is a perennial shrub that is native to and common in North America. It prefers
woods, ditches, and hillsides, in gravelly or sandy soil. Dogbane bark is a superb source of fiber
for making clothes, twine, nets, bags, etc. The plants are harvested in the fall, after the toxins drain
to the roots.
Plants: 6½-20' (2-6 m) high, with reddish stems that
excude a milky latex if cut. This sap can cause blisters. Stems are woody at the base,
branching a lot further up.
Flowers: White to greenish-white flowers have large sepals and a five-lobed corolla.
Each flower is ¼" (6.3 mm) in size. They appear at leaf tips or leaf axils.
They appear from May to August.
Fruits: Flowers are replaced by pairs of narrow pointed pods about 4-5" (10-12 cm)
× ⅛" (3.2 mm). Each pod contains a large number of seeds, and has tufts of silky white hairs at its tips.
Edibility: Poisonous This is poisonous to dogs and livestock
as well as to people, and can cause heart attack. Stems contain a milky sap that causes skin to blister.
The “cannabinum” in the scientific name refers to a
similarity to Cannabis, because of the fibrous properties of both plants. Dogbane is not psychoactive.
Despite the plant’s toxicity, seeds can be ground to produce a meal.
Medical: Native Americans used this plant for a variety of
medical treatments, though its high degree of toxicity requires a great deal of expertise.