fruits and seeds in the fall garden add a visual
interest that draws the eye as much as stunning flowers
native dogbane is one of those very plants.
pollination, fruits appear as long cylinders that split
open, releasing seeds covered with long tufts of silky
hairs, easily dispersed by the wind," says Helen
Hamilton, past president of the John Clayton Chapter,
Virginia Native Plant Society, and retired biology
teacher living in Williamsburg, Va.
or Apocynum cannabinum, is a shrub-like herbaceous
perennial that grows 3 to 5 feet tall with attractive
purplish stems that branch near the top, according to
Hamilton. Like milkweeds, which they superficially
resemble, both stems and leaves produce a milky sap when
broken. Monarchs and other butterflies sip nectar from
the flowers and occasionally lay a few eggs, but none
develop into caterpillars.
through July, white bell-like flowers, sweetly fragrant,
appear in clusters at the ends of branches. The flowers
produce lots of nectar and attract many kinds of insects
— bees, beetles, bugs and butterflies.
to grow with erect stems, dogbane fits nicely at the
back of a perennial border or at the edge of woodlands,
but the plant spreads quickly from underground rhizomes
and can be too aggressive for a small garden, advises
Hamilton. Dogbane prefers full sun and somewhat moist
soils but tolerates both flooding and drought. The plant
grows naturally in all counties of Virginia and
throughout the United States and Canada.
common name, dogbane, refers to the plant’s toxic
nature, which has been described as "poisonous to
dogs," but it is poisonous to animals and humans
alike. Apocynum means "away, dog" and
cannabinum means "like hemp," in reference to
the strong cordage that was made by weaving together the
stem’s long fibers.
known as "Indian hemp," Native American women
made miles and miles of twine from the long fibers in
the stems of dogbane. Their homes were constructed of
vertical and horizontal poles covered with bent
saplings, all lashed together with dogbane twine, which
also furnished fishnets, baskets, mats and ropes.
uses are thousands of years old — remnants of dogbane
fibers have been found in ancient archeological
sites," Hamilton says.
pearl crescent butterflies
you see a medium-sized orange and black butterfly
without the tails of a swallowtail butterfly, you can
bet it’s a pearl crescent, or Phyciodes tharos.
Frank, coordinator of the Butterfly Circles in the
Williamsburg area, says: "Pearl crescents are named
for the tiny moon-crescent shape on its hindwing, seen
when the wings are folded up (closed). They are
sometimes known as ‘pearly crescentspot.’"
Hampton Roads, there are several broods each year, which
is why pearl crescents are seen nearly all season,
feeding on many flower species, according to Hamilton.
Their favorites include dogbane, asters, swamp milkweed,
black-eyed susans and thistles, all plants that thrive
in full sun and open areas.
year was a good year for them in our area," Frank
had them in our home garden almost all summer long. We’ve
seen them on a wide array of flowering plants, probably
because they have small mouth parts. They seemed
particularly interested in yellow cone flowers and
pearl crescents are distinguished by black knobs on
their antennae, according to Hamilton. The female lays
her eggs in small groups on the underside of aster
leaves, their host plants. Several species of asters are
familiar food for the growing larvae, including Frost
Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) and Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichum
laeve), fall-blooming plants with multiple flowers on
branching stems. The larvae are dark brown with a light
line and covered with black bristly spines.
crescents are common in Hampton Roads and throughout the
eastern United States and western states, according to