Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A statewide resident, prairie dogbane or "Indian hemp" is widely distributed across southern Canada, most of the United States, and northern Mexico, at elevations up to 7,500 ft.
Prairie dogbane is a perennial up to two and a half feet tall. Patches of plants form as the root system spreads underground. Leaves are opposite, smooth, oval, and about two or three inches long, with a tiny pointed tip. The small greenish-white flowers are borne in dense clusters on stalks from among the upper leaves. Plants contain a bitter milky latex. Later in the season are formed slender pods (called follicles) up to six inches long. By fall, the leaves have dried to a pleasing orange color.
Look for prairie dogbane in low prairie that is idle or lightly grazed. The fibers from prairie dogbane and its several close (and often hybridizing) relatives were used by the Amerindians for string, ropes, and nets; the latex of several dogbanes was used for chewing gum, and the dried roots medicinally to induce perspiration, stimulate the heart, and cause vomiting.
This plant is a member of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). The 1500 or so species in this family are mostly tropical; many are poisonous, and some are important sources of natural rubber. Apocynum is the ancient name of the Old World dogbane, a plant in the milkweed family. The name was compounded from the Greek apo "far from", and cyon, "a dog". The common name also suggests danger to dogs, but there is none. The specific name sibiricum means "Siberian" in botanical Latin. Prairie dogbane was first described for science in 1770 by the famous Austrian botanist Nicolaus Joseph Baron von Jacquin.