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This native perennial plant is about 2½–5' tall, branching occasionally and more or less erect. The stems are variably hairy, sometimes having hairs that occur in lines along their length. These hairs are white and either straight or somewhat curved, but not conspicuously hooked. The compound leaves alternate along the stems; they are trifoliate. The petioles of the compound leaves are about ½–1½" in length. At the base of each petiole is a pair of inconspicuous stipules that are deciduous and at least 5 times longer than they are wide. The leaflets are about 1½–3½" long and about half as much across. They are ovate-lanceolate or ovate and have smooth margins. The base of each leaflet is quite rounded. The upper surface of each leaflet is green or dark green, and nearly glabrous or finely pubescent. The lower surface is light green and faintly reticulate. There are usually fine hairs on the lower leaf surface, especially along the major veins, but the amount is variable.  The upper stems terminate in panicles of light pink to purplish pink flowers. The larger panicles can be 1-2' long and have spreading stems that produce numerous flowers. Each flower is about ¼" long. These flowers have a typical structure for members of the Bean family, consisting of a hood and projecting keel. Near the center of each flower is a patch of white that is surrounded by a thin line of purple. The blooming period can occur from mid-summer to early fall, and lasts about a month. There is no floral scent. Each fertilized flower is replaced by a flat loment (a type of seedpod) consisting of 2-5 rounded segments. These loments are about ¾–1½" long and covered with clinging hairs. The root system consists of a taproot and nodule-forming secondary roots. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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