This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flower-heads - Composite, numerous, greenish or cream white, or tinged with lilac, fragrant, nodding; borne in loose, open, narrow terminal, and axillary clusters. Each bell-like flowerhead only about 1/4 in. across, composed of 8 to 15 ray flowers, drooping from a cup-like involucre consisting of 8 principal, colored bracts. Stem: 2 to 5 ft. high, smooth, green or dark purplish red, leafy, from a tuberous, bitter root. Leaves: Alternate, variable, sometimes very large, broad, hastate, ovate, or heart-shaped, wavy-toothed, lobed, or palmately cleft; upper leaves smaller, lance-shaped, entire.
Preferred Habitat - Woods; rich, moist borders; roadsides.
Flowering Season - August - September.
Distribution - Southern Canada to Georgia and Kentucky.
Nodding in graceful, open clusters from the top of a shining colored stalk, the inconspicuous little bell-like flowers of this common plant spread their rays to release the branching styles for contact with pollen-laden visitors. These styles presently become a bunch of cinnamon-colored hairs, a seed-tassel resembling a sable paint brush - the principal feature that distinguishes this species from the smaller-flowered Tall White Lettuce (N. altissimus), whose pappus is a light straw color. Both these plants are most easily recognized when their fluffy, plumed seeds are waiting for a stiff breeze to waft them to fresh colonizing ground.