All across Iowa, the edges of woods are lined with plants bearing clusters of white flowers. There's a good likelihood those plants are white snakeroot, a native perennial in the Asteraceae family. The plant is best known for its role in milk sickness, an ailment responsible for the death of large numbers of settlers moving into the midwest in the 1800's. Milk sickness was caused by cows grazing on white snakeroot. The toxin would accumulate within the milk and then poison anyone drinking the milk. It took decades to determine the source of the toxin. Entire settlements were reported to have been killed by milk sickness; Abe Lincoln's mother is believed to have died from the ailment when he was nine years old.
The flowers of white snakeroot are a common sight along
the edges of Iowa's woodlands in September.