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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Common
Name

Scientific
Name

Plant
Family

Garden
Location

Prime
Season

Leadplant
Amorpha canescens Pursh
Pea (Fabaceae)
Upland
Early summer to Late summer
Other names and notes

(Wild Tea, Devil's Shoestrings). Leadplant is a semi-erect native perennial forb growing 1 to 3 feet high, on branching stems which become woody with age. New stems are green and finely hairy. The leaves are compound, pinnately divided into 13 to 25 pairs of leaflets plus a terminal leaflet. Leaflets are ovate, about 1/2" long and half as wide. The leaf undersides and stems are covered with small whitish hairs, which as the leaf ages, give the plant a grayish hue, hence the common name. The inflorescence consists of spike-like clusters (5 to 20) of small flowers at the ends of the stems. The weight of the spikes tends to cause the plant to tilt over, making it 'semi-erect'. The flowers are 5-parted with a 5-toothed purplish hairy calyx and a corolla which has a single petal that forms first a tube and then opens horizontally, shielding beneath it the 8 stamens, pistil and style. This petal is the typical banner petal of a pea family flower. The laterals and keel petals are missing. The corolla varies in color from blue to purple. The protruding bright stamens are quite noticeable with reddish filaments and yellow-orange anthers. Seed: Fertile flowers produce an oblong, curved hard seedpod containing 1, or sometimes 2, seeds.

Habitat: Leadplant is a shrub of the uplands and prairies. It is highly drought tolerant due to a deep tap root, which also makes transplanting a poor idea. Full sun is needed for sturdy flowering plants but a variety of soils are tolerated. The lower stems are woody and on the prairie, periodic burns rejuvenate the plant; in the home garden it will be necessary to periodically prune out old wood. It is a common native prairie inhabitant. Names: The genus Amorpha, comes from the Greek amorphos, meaning 'shapeless or deformed' and refers to the single petal flower. The species canescens is from the Latin and refers to the whitish or hoary color tinge from the fine leaf and stem hair and from which comes the common name of 'lead' plant. The alternate name 'Devil's Shoestrings' comes from the deep roots which farmers were never able to plough out. The author name ‘Pursh’ is for Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774-1820) German-American botanist who wrote A Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America, and was botanist to the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clark.

Leadplant
Leadplant
Leadplant
The Leadplant flower spikes are frequently found leaning over into the under story-plants. These photos of blooming plants are from first week of July. Below: The seed head of October.
Leadplant
Lead Plant seed stalk
Below: The large taproot of a young plant. Below: The underside of leaves and the stems are covered with small whitish hairs, which as the leaf ages, give the plant a lead-color hue Below: A dense cluster of flower buds forming. Cluster can have up to 20 spikes.
root leaf hair flower buds
 
Leadplant Leaf
 
Leadplant
 

Notes: Leadplant is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler first recorded planting this species on Sept, 10, 1910 with plants obtained in Lake City, MN. This plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. Leadplant is found throughout most of Minnesota except the NE quarter, and generally found in most of the Central United States Plains areas south to Texas. In Canada it is known in Manitoba and Ontario. Leadplant is one of three Amorphas found in Minnesota. The other two are A. fruticosa, Desert False Indigo and A. nana, Fragrant False Indigo.

John C. Fremont wrote on June 17, 1842 in his journal of The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains: ". . . and many beautiful plants in flower, among which the Amorpha canescens was a characteristic, enlivened the green of the prairie. Along our route the Amorpha has been in very abundant but variable bloom - in some places, bending beneath the weight of purple clusters; in others, without a flower. It seems to love best the sunny slopes, with a dark soil and southern exposure. It rivals the grass in quantity." On that day he was at 96º 32’ 35” L. 39º 45’ 08” lat. on the Kansas and Lower Platte Rivers in Kansas.

 
 

 
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applies. Distribution principally from Wi, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.  
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