Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 24 comments

Dogbane Flowers 8115

On June 14 in Grant Woods Forest Preserve in Lake County, Illinois, we saw dogbane flowers of two types: spreading (pink, Apocynum androsaemifolium) and prairie (white, Apocynum cannabinum).


Did you know that botanists recently moved the whole milkweed family inside the dogbane family?

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 5, 2016 at 4:45 AM

24 Responses

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  1. Beautiful photographs!


    August 5, 2016 at 6:23 AM

    • Thanks, Belinda. Dogbane isn’t a wildflower I’m familiar with from central Texas, so I was glad to see what it looks like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2016 at 6:32 AM

  2. I did not know that.

    Did you ever read the children’s book Go Dog Go?

    Jim Ruebush

    August 5, 2016 at 7:32 AM

  3. I do believe that the prairie white dogbane is a flower that I found and have been trying to identify. Great photos to help me make the ID, thank you very much!


    August 5, 2016 at 7:47 AM

  4. I looked up the name and found that its common name results from its reported toxicity to dogs. In fact, the genus name, Apocynum, tranlates as “Away, dog!”


    August 5, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    • I’d thought about having a second “Did you know” at the end of my text in which I would have explained the “Away, dog!” etymology that you mentioned in your comment. There’s more: Greek ap(o)- is the cognate of English off, and the Greek root cyn- is the cognate of Latin canis and English hound. Etymology is one thing that I’ll never chase off.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2016 at 3:38 PM

  5. It’s true: etymology clearly isn’t the bane of your existence (although the propensity of botanists to keep shifting things around might be).

    I think I remember that you once mentioned a good resource for the meaning of botanical names, but I either didn’t make note of it, or have lost the reference. I’ve found some online references, but is there a book you’d recommend?

    The plants themselves are quite pretty. When I saw cannabinum, I wondered if there might have been a connection to hemp. Sure enough, the fibers of the stems once were used to make a kind of rope.


    August 5, 2016 at 10:11 PM

    • If I once mentioned a good resource for the meaning of botanical names, I’m sorry to say I know longer remember which one it was. It could have been one of the sites mentioned here:


      Like you, I’d wondered about the name cannabinum, but you were good enough to pursue it and find that fibers hold the explanation.

      As for botanical names shifting around, by now you’ve seen more of that in the latest post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 6, 2016 at 6:41 AM

  6. No I didn’t know that .. Lovely images Steve


    August 5, 2016 at 11:19 PM

  7. Really? They moved the milkweed family inside dogbane? I can’t keep up with all the changes! Lovely images as always, Steve.


    August 6, 2016 at 6:56 AM

    • I went on a field trip last fall with a professor of biology from the University of Texas. She commented that things have gotten to the point where the common name of a species has sometimes proved more stable than the scientific name.

      As for the pictures of dogbane, I like the colors of the first and the chiaroscuro and shadows of the second.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 6, 2016 at 7:14 AM

  8. The somewhat constant renaming of species or placing them in different families is confusing and I wonder how truly necessary it is. As a non-scientist I can only guess that the continued study of genetics is the reason they are discovering changing relationships.

    Steve Gingold

    August 10, 2016 at 3:40 AM

    • As I understand it, you’re right that better and better DNA analysis is the reason for the continuing reclassifications. It is confusing, though. I’ve seen plenty of changes just since 1999, when I began photographing native plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 10, 2016 at 4:02 AM

  9. I did know. I had felt that they were related, but I would have put the dogbanes in with milkweeds, not the other way around. Seems like a pretty big move, even for botanists. I am tickled that the botanist you were in the field with admitted that the common names are now often more stable than the scientific ones. Happily for my pen and ink series, which has taken several years to complete and which will likely take a few more, it is acceptable to use old names so long as sources are cited. I shall be citing like mad! Actually, it is all rather fun. I took a single graduate level course toward a master’s in botany, once. We were ushered into a sterile white lab where a pert young thing stood with one hand on her hip, one hand on a remote control. Using the “find ’em and grind ’em” technique, she was sequencing an orchid while we watched. I still haven’t recovered. I happened to be in the same class as a friend of mine, also much more of a field ecologist than a lab rat. We looked at each other and quickly made tracks out of there! Neither one of us pursued a master’s.


    August 26, 2016 at 8:55 AM

    • In replying to a comment at


      from someone who, like you, was familiar with Minuartia under its former name Arenaria, I discovered that the species you pointed out to us at Illinois Beach had nine scientific names before the current one! So yes, you’re likely to be citing like mad.

      I’m sorry you got disenchanted with the Master’s program in botany, but it’s good that the disenchantment came right at the beginning so you didn’t invest a lot of time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2016 at 2:14 PM

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