Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

This is a true prairie plant. Return
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Description

This native perennial plant is 1-3' tall, producing occasional side branches. Lead Plant is usually semi-erect; in partially shaded situations, it will sprawl along the ground in the direction of greater lighter. With age, it becomes increasing woody, assuming that growth and development are not disrupted by occasional fires or browsing from animals. The young stems are light green and covered with white hairs. The compound leaves are whitish to greyish green, depending on the intensity of sunlight reaching the plant. Sometimes fine hairs cover the plant to the extent that it appears to be heavily dusted with white lead, hence its name. The compound leaves are bipinnate, 4-12" long, and may have up to 50 small leaflets, each about ½" long and ¼" wide. The small flowers occur along pubescent spikes, about 2-6" long, at the ends of major branches. These flowers range in color from light to dark purple. Each flower has a single upper petal, which is tubular at first, but later unfolds horizontally to protect the reproductive parts. There are also 8 exerted reddish stamens with bright yellow anthers that are quite conspicuous. There is little or no floral scent. The blooming period occurs from early to mid-summer and lasts about 3 weeks. The central root occasionally branches, and can extend 15 ft. or more into the soil. Cultivation
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Lead Plant occurs primarily in the northern two-thirds of Illinois, where it is occasional. In southern Illinois, this plant is uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include mesic to dry black soil prairies, sand prairies, gravel prairies, hill prairies, limestone glades, and Black Oak savannas. The presence of Lead Plant is a sign of high quality habitat. Because of its deep roots, recovery from fire is very good. Faunal Associations
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: Great Plains and Midwest, from IN and Man. to MT, south from TX to NM. Peripheral.

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Leadplant distribution. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2011. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. (14 June 2011).

Leadplant occurs across most of the Great Plains. It is apparently extirpated from Montana and is rare in Ontario, Michigan, and Arkansas [65].

States and provinces (as of 2011 [123]):
United States: AR, CO, IA, IL, IN, KS, LA, MI, MN, MO, MT, ND, NE, NM, OK, SD, TX, WI, WY
Canada: MB, ON

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

More info for the terms: cover, forb, indehiscent, root crown, top-kill

This description covers characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (for example, [10,38,48,84,117,138]).

Leadplant is a low, spreading [36] subshrub [38,123,132], with semiwoody stems [65]. Stems are single or clustered at the woody root crown [114]. They are erect and/or ascending [128]. Mature plants may reach 1.0 to 3.5 feet (0.3-1.1 m) tall [38,128]. Leadplant is sometimes termed a forb because on sites that are regularly burned, mowed, or heavily grazed, it remains short and its stems remain mostly herbaceous due to frequent top-kill [62,117,118,134,136]; however, its root crown remains woody [62]. This species is called leadplant due to its leaves, which are a leaden gray-green and covered with fine hairs. Leaves are compound. The inflorescences are several [114], arranged in densely clustered racemes [10,38,128]. There may be 200 to 300 flowers/raceme [147]. The fruit is a hairy [117], indehiscent [147] legume [48,117,128]. The seeds are solitary in the pod [14,114,118,128] and small, about 2 mm long [10,128,128]. Leadplant is generally rhizomatous [38,48,147], although this may not be true of all plants [48]. Leadplant has a taproot [119,147] and secondary lateral and vertical roots [147]. Roots are branched [14] and typically deeper than those of associated bunchgrasses [62,136]. They may penetrate 7 to 20 feet (2-5 m), depending on the soil [10]. Weaver [133,136] excavated leadplant roots from depths of 6 to 16 feet (2-5 m) in tallgrass prairies. A 7-year-old plant had 11 primary vertical and horizontal roots that extended 4 to 5 feet (1-1.5 m) from the root crown. Some secondary roots extended 16.5 feet [133]. Leadplant roots are nodulated; nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the nodes form a symbiotic relationship with leadplant [27]. Weaver [133] observed small nodules 10 to 12 feet (3-3.6 m) below the root crown of the 7-year-old plant; nodules occurred along the entire length of some of its roots.

Leadplant is drought-tolerant [53,66,132]. During the Dust Bowl years of 1936 to 1939, leadplant increased its cover on 4 prairie sites in Nebraska, while it disappeared from 2 other sites. Seedlings were noted on some Nebraska sites in 1938 but did not survive [137].

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Physical Description

Perennial, Shrubs, Stems woody below, or from woody crown or caudex, Plants with rhizomes or suckers, Nodules present, Stems erect or ascending, Stems less than 1 m tall, Stems solid, Stems or young twigs sparsely to densely hairy, Stems silvery, canescent, tomentose, cobwebby, or wooly, Leaves alternate, Leaves petiolate, Stipules inconspicuous, absent, or caducous, Stipules membranous or chartaceous, Stipules setiform, subulate or acicular, Stipules deciduous, Stipules free, Leaves compound, Leaves odd pinnate, Leaf or leaflet margins entire, Leaflets alternate or subopposite, Stipels present at base of leaflets, Leaflets 10-many, Leaves hairy on one or both surfaces, Inflorescences racemes, Inflorescences spikes or spike-like, Inflorescence axillary, Bracts very small, absent or caducous, Flowers zygomorphic, Calyx 5-lobed, Calyx glabrous, Corolla reduced to 1 petal, Petals separate, Petals clawed, Petals blue, lavander to purple, or violet, Banner petal ovoid or obovate, Stamens 9-10, Stamens monadelphous, united below, Stamens long exserted, Filaments glabrous, Anthers versatile, Style terete, Style hairy, Fruit a legume, Fruit unilocular, Fruit indehiscent, Fruit elongate, straight, Fruit oblong or ellipsoidal, Fruit exserted from calyx, Fruit hairy, Fruit gland-dotted or with gland-tipped hairs, Fruit 1-seeded, Seeds ovoid to rounded in outline, Seeds cordiform, mit-shaped, notched at one end, Seed surface smooth, Seeds olive, brown, or black.
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Dr. David Bogler

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Diagnostic Description

Lead Plant could be confused with members of the genus DALEA or PSORALEA, but these plants are not true shrubs, and they have flowers with more than 1 petal.

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Type Information

Isotype for Amorpha brachycarpa E.J. Palmer
Catalog Number: US 1115695
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): E. J. Palmer
Year Collected: 1920
Locality: Near Galena., Stone, Missouri, United States, North America
  • Isotype: Palmer, E. J. 1931. J. Arnold Arbor. 12: 171.
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© Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany

Source: National Museum of Natural History Collections

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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Lead Plant occurs primarily in the northern two-thirds of Illinois, where it is occasional. In southern Illinois, this plant is uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include mesic to dry black soil prairies, sand prairies, gravel prairies, hill prairies, limestone glades, and Black Oak savannas. The presence of Lead Plant is a sign of high quality habitat. Because of its deep roots, recovery from fire is very good. Faunal Associations
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Site Characteristics and Plant Communities

More info for the terms: association, fire regime, forb, mesic, series, shrubs, tussock

Site characteristics:
Topography and elevation: Leadplant is a species of dry, sandy flats and valleys [28,111,114], high plains [138], hillsides [28,28,111,111,114,114,118], and streambanks [128]. Weaver [136] reported high leadplant importance values on both upland and lowland sites in tallgrass prairies across the Northern and Central Great Plains; leadplant was the most important forb on uplands and 3rd most important on lowlands [136]. Leadplant is most common on dry plains, slopes [48,114,128], and sand dunes, although it also occurs on wet to mesic sites. In eastern Kansas, it occurs on sand dunes in sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii) communities and in dry valleys in prairie sandreed-blue grama-spike dropseed (Calamovilfa longifolia-Bouteloua gracilis-Sporobolus cryptandrus) communities [63]. A 1917 Kansas publication reported it as common along streams and ditches [115].

There were few reports of leadplant's elevational ranges as of 2011. Leadplant occurs from 3,500 to 4,500 feet (1,100-1,400 m) in Colorado [51] and from 5,300 to 7,000 feet (1,600-2,100 m) in New Mexico [28].

Soils: Leadplant prefers well-drained or dry soils [11,147]. By the Middle Loup River, Nebraska, it did not occur where the water table was shallower than 40 inches (100 cm) above ground level [86]. In central and southern Wisconsin, leadplant grows in deep sands lacking groundwater seepage and in shallow soils above sandstone [71].

Leadplant grows in several different soil textures [118]. It typically grows in sandy, gravely, or rocky soils [21,114,128], although it is found in loams or clay loams in Kansas [78]. Leadplant tolerates slightly acidic [132] to mildly alkaline [66,132] soils. In South Dakota, it grows in mixed-grass sand bluestem-prairie sandreed communities on stabilized sandhills or loamy sands; soil pH ranges from 6.4 to 8.4 [12]. Leadplant grows in alluvium in Kansas [78]. It is considered an indicator species of mesic, mixed-grass shale-limestone prairies of western Kansas. Big bluestem and purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea) dominate these prairies. Soils are clay loams with a modal pH of 7.8 [57]. A leadplant-prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) community occurs on gravel and dry-dolomite prairies in Wisconsin [6].

Plant communities: Leadplant occurs in tall- and mixed-grass prairies, moist to mesic meadows and shrublands, oak (Quercus spp.) and conifer savannas and woodlands, and southwestern scrublands. Details on these plant communities are provided below. See the Fire Regime Table for a list of plant communities in which leadplant may occur and information on the FIRE REGIMES associated with those communities.

Prairies: In its core distribution in the Northern and Central Great Plains, leadplant is very common in tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies. Weaver [135] described leadplant as "perhaps the most conspicuous, most widely distributed, and most abundant of prairie plants except for certain grasses" [135]. Leadplant is especially common in sandhill prairies [118,131,140]. Curtis [35] classified leadplant as a characteristic species of Wisconsin's tallgrass prairies, being especially prevalent on dry sites and sites with limestone-derived soils [79].

Leadplant is associated with bluestems (Andropogoneae) throughout its range [11,62,78]. It is the most common subshrub or forb of the tallgrass prairie and is characteristic of the ecosystem [79]. Leadplant is an indicator species of tallgrass prairie in Manitoba, where the tallgrass prairie is on the northern edge of its distribution [64]. It is a characteristic, and often dominant, subshrub in dry-sand and dry-gravel tallgrass prairies of Iowa; it also occurs in rare, mesic tallgrass prairies on moraines and till plains [18]. It is a dominant species in big bluestem-little bluestem (Andropogon gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium)-leadplant dry to mesic prairies of Iowa [34]. A study of 216 tallgrass prairie sites in Illinois showed leadplant was most abundant in little bluestem-Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa) transition communities situated between mesic lowland and dry, hillslope prairies [31]. Leadplant is important to dominant in Nebraska's sand bluestem-prairie sandreed tallgrass communities [109,139]. A leadplant-sand cherry (Prunus pumila) minor association occurs in sandhill prairies of the Great Plains [36].

Once extensive across the eastern Great Plains [75], tallgrass prairies are now mostly reduced to remnant patches. About 2% of the original tallgrass prairie still existed as of 1996 [102]. Tallgrass prairie once covered about one-third of Minnesota; now, it is one of the state's rarest plant communities. Leadplant and other tallgrass prairie species are most common in remnant patches along roadsides and railway rights-of-way [61].

Leadplant is associated with tallgrass prairies in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri [33,103]. These prairie communities develop on loess hills; indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) and little bluestem usually dominate [122].

It may be an important component of mixed-grass prairies [99], although leadplant is not typically dominant. It is most common on well-drained, upland mixed-grass prairies, often called "high prairies" [140]. Dominant short grasses include prairie sandreed, needlegrasses (Stipeae)—especially needle-and-thread grass (Nassella comata)—blue grama, other gramas (Bouteloua spp.), and buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides). Big bluestem and little bluestem are dominant tall grasses [12,13,112].

Meadows and shrublands: Leadplant sometimes associates in or near seasonally wet or mesic communities of the Great Plains. It is a minor component of tussock sedge (Carex stricta) meadows in Wisconsin [35]. In Nebraska, it frequents streamsides and lakeshores within the tall dropseed (Sporobolus asper)-little bluestem series. Soils are saturated in spring but drain in summer [63]. Throughout the Northern and Central Great Plains, leadplant may associate in chokecherry (P. virginiana) shrublands near streams, draws, and canyon bottoms [94].

Oak communities: On the eastern edge of the Great Plains, leadplant intermingles in oak (Quercus spp.) savannas and open woodlands [21,114,118,128]. It is especially common in oak-hickory (Carya spp.) savannas on tallgrass prairie-woodland interfaces [21]. The white oak-pin oak (Q. ellipsoidalis)/leadplant community is diagnostic of tallgrass prairie-oak-hickory forest transitions in Wisconsin (review by [147]). Bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), black oak (Q. velutina), white oak, shagbark hickory (C. ovata), and bitternut hickory (C. cordiformis) are typical overstory dominants in oak communities containing leadplant [21,41,147]. Leadplant is a characteristic, and often dominant, subshrub in black oak savannas of Iowa [18]. It is generally common in northern pin oak savannas of the Great Lakes states [106]. In Wisconsin, it has been noted in northern pin oak barrens [59]. Kotar and others [72] describe a white oak-northern pin oak/leadplant habitat type of northern Wisconsin; the type is most common on outwashes. Leadplant is rare in white oak-bur oak savannas and woodlands of southeastern Michigan [2,78].

In the Ozark Mountains, leadplant occurs in upland oak woodlands [33,103]. Overstory dominants include white oak, post oak (Q. stellata), and black oak [74,122].

Conifer communities: At the western, northern, and southern edges of its distribution, leadplant occurs in several open conifer communities. It is sometimes dominant in interior ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum) savannas in the Black Hills [45,58,114], where it occupies the low-shrub layer [120]. It is one of the most common shrubs on cattle rangelands near Rapid City in the central Black Hills [126].

Leadplant occurs in several conifer communities in the Great Lakes states. It may skirt the southern and western edges of northern spruce-fir (Picea-Abies) forest-oak savanna interfaces [71]. In southern Wisconsin, leadplant was noted in a former jack pine (Pinus banksiana)-northern pin oak community that converted to tallgrass prairie after burning twice in 30 years. Also in Wisconsin, it is a dominant component of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) glades [35]. In Minnesota, leadplant is a component of eastern white pine/low sweet blueberry (Pinus strobus/Vaccinium angustifolium) habitat types [71].

In the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, leadplant occurs in eastern redcedar glades [33,103], and it is a secondary species in shortleaf pine (P. echinata)-oak woodlands [81]. In the Carolinas, leadplant grows in longleaf pine/pineland threeawn (P. palustris/Aristida stricta) savannas [29].

Southwestern scrublands: In eastern New Mexico, leadplant is an occasional to important member of plains mesa sand-scrublands. Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), shin oak (Q. havardii), or soaptree yucca (Yucca glauca) may dominate the overstory, and a mix of tall- and mixed grasses including big bluestem, purple threeawn, and hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta) typically dominate the understory [37].

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Associations

Flower-Visiting Insects of Leadplant in Illinois

Amorpha canescens (Leadplant)
(Bees collect pollen or suck nectar; beetles and some flies feed on pollen or flowers & are mostly non-pollinating; other insects suck nectar. Observations are from Robertson, Reed, Petersen, Moure & Hurd, Krombein et al., LaBerge, Hilty, Mawdsley, Swingel & Swingel, Lisberg & Young, and Tuell et al. as indicated below)

Bees (long-tongued)
Apidae (Bombini): Bombus affinis (Re), Bombus bimaculatus (Pt, Re), Bombus fervidus (Pt), Bombus griseocollis sn (Rb, Re), Bombus impatiens (Re, Tll), Bombus pensylvanicus sn cp (Rb), Bombus ternarius (Re), Bombus vagans (Re), Psithyrus variabilis sn (Rb); Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina sp. (Re), Ceratina calcarata/dupla (Tll), Ceratina dupla dupla sn (Rb); Megachilidae (Coelioxini): Coelioxys octodentata sn (Rb), Coelioxys sayi sn (Rb); Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile brevis brevis sn cp (Rb), Megachile latimanus (Re), Megachile mendica (Re); Megachilidae (Osmiini): Hoplitis cylindricus sn cp fq olg (Rb, Re), Hoplitis pilosifrons sn (Rb); Megachilidae (Trypetini): Heriades leavitti sn cp (Rb)

Bees (short-tongued)
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon texanus texanus sn (Rb), Augochlorella aurata sn cp (Rb), Augochlorella persimilis (MH), Augochlorella striata sn (Rb, Re), Halictus confusus (Rb, Re), Halictus parallelus sn (Rb, Tll), Halictus rubicunda sn cp fq (Rb, Re), Lasioglossum sp. (Re), Lasioglossum acuminatum (Tll), Lasioglossum admirandum fq (Tll), Lasioglossum anomalis (Re), Lasioglossum cinctipes (Re), Lasioglossum coriaceum (MH, Re), Lasioglossum forbesii sn (Rb), Lasioglossum heterognathum (Re), Lasioglossum illinoensis (Re), Lasioglossum imitatum sn cp (Rb, Re), Lasioglossum laevissimum (Re), Lasioglossum lineatulum (Re), Lasioglossum obscurum (MH), Lasioglossum pilosum pilosum (Rb, Re), Lasioglossum tegulare sn (Rb, Re), Lasioglossum testaceum (MH), Lasioglossum versatum sn cp fq (Rb); Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes albescens (LB), Colletes eulophi sn cp fq (Rb), Colletes mandibularis (LB), Colletes robertsonii (LB); Colletidae (Hylaeinae): Hylaeus affinis cp np (Rb, Re), Hylaeus mesillae cp np (Rb); Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena commoda (Re), Andrena helianthi (Re), Andrena hippotes (Kr), Andrena miranda (Re), Andrena quintilis cp olg (Kr), Andrena virginiana (Re), Andrena wilmattae (Kr); Andrenidae (Panurginae): Calliopsis andreniformis sn (Rb), Heterosarus parvus (Re)

Wasps
Sphecidae (Bembicinae): Bicyrtes ventralis (Rb); Sphecidae (Larrinae): Tachytes distinctus (Rb), Tachytes pepticus (Rb); Sphecidae (Philanthinae): Cerceris sp. (Re), Cerceris bicornuta (Rb), Philanthus sanbornii (Re), Philanthus ventilabris (Rb); Sphecidae (Sphecinae): Ammophila kennedyi (Rb), Ammophila nigricans fq (Rb), Ammophila pictipennis (Rb), Ammophila procera (Rb), Isodontia apicalis (Rb), Podalonia mickeli (Re), Prionyx atrata fq (Rb), Prionyx thomae (Rb); Vespidae: Polistes dorsalis (Rb), Polistes fuscata (Re); Vespidae (Eumeninae): Eumenes fraterna (Rb), Stenodynerus anormis (Rb); Tiphiidae: Myzinum quinquecincta (Rb)

Flies
Tabanidae: Chrysops sp. (Re); Syrphidae: Eristalis stipator (Re), Paragus bicolor fp np (Rb), Sphaerophoria sp. (Re), Sphaerophoria contiqua fp np (Rb), Toxomerus marginatus (Re), Tropidia mamillata fp np (Rb); Bombyliidae: Hemipenthes sinuosa fp np (Rb), Systoechus sp. (Re), Toxophora amphitea sn (Rb); Conopidae: Physocephala tibialis (Re), Thecophora sp. (Re)

Butterflies
Lycaenidae: Lycaeides melissa samuelis sn fq (Sw), Satyrium edwardsii sn (Re)

Moths
Ctenuchidae: Cisseps fulvicollis (Re)

Beetles
Chrysomelidae: Diabrotica cristata fp np (Rb); Cleridae: Phyllobaenus pubescens (Mwd); Meloidae: Epicauta murina fp np (Rb); Mordellidae: Mordella marginata (LY); Scarabaeidae: Popillia japonica gnw np (H)

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General Ecology

Fire Management Considerations

More info for the terms: cool-season, fire frequency, frequency, litter, mesic, prescribed fire, warm-season

Frequent prescribed fires apparently benefit leadplant. In Minnesota, remnant tallgrass prairie communities along Highway 56 have been maintained by frequent prescribed burning. Leadplant is an important component of these prairie remnants and is considered an indicator of remnant sites in good condition [61].

Betz [18] claims that tallgrass prairies and oak savannas cannot be restored without frequent, possibly annual, prescribed fires. An Illinois study investigating the relationship between fire frequency and long-term (25 years) successional changes in ungrazed tallgrass prairies found herbaceous species diversity increased and woody species diversity decreased with increasing fire frequency. This relationship held for both mesic and dry-mesic prairies (abstract by [23]). The studies discussed in Plant response to fire show that typically, leadplant survives frequent grassland fires, usually assuming a forb-like growth form.

The benefits of prescribed fire in tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies include controlling woody species, increasing herbage production, and increasing palatability of bluestems and other coarse tallgrasses. On sites dominated by warm-season grasses such as sideoats grama, spring burning helps control cool-season species [144]. Prescribed fire can also reduce litter build-up, raising soil temperatures and encouraging growth of nitrifying soil bacteria (review by [124]).

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Fire Regimes

More info for the terms: cover, fire regime

Fire histories for tall- and mixed-grass prairies are usually not available due to the lack of fire-scarred trees. However, it is certain that fires historically occurred in the Great Plains, and they were probably frequent. Fire histories near prairie-woodland ecotones, such as ponderosa pine woodlands to the west and the oak-hickory woodlands to the east of the Great Plains, have been extrapolated to estimate fire frequencies in adjacent prairies. Such fire histories show a regime of low-severity surface fires ranging from 2 to 25 years apart. Based on pioneer accounts of fires in the settlement period, fire-return intervals ranged from 5 to 10 years in tallgrass prairies and from 20 to 30 years in the dissected, rolling plains on the Edwards Plateau of Texas. Although accurate presettlement fire histories are unknown, it is generally accepted that tallgrass prairies developed under a regime of fires at 1- to 10-year intervals (review by [124]).

Fire exclusion may reduce leadplant cover. Cores from Lake West Okoboji in Iowa revealed that leadplant pollen and seeds were abundant from 9,000 years before present to 1865. Leadplant occurrence in core samples dropped steeply after 1865, which corresponds to the period of European settlement and increasingly fewer prairie fires [9].

See the Fire Regime Table for further information on FIRE REGIMES of vegetation communities in which leadplant may occur.

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Fuels

More info for the terms: frequency, fuel, litter

Reviews report that tallgrass prairies accumulate fuels quickly in the absence of fire. Tall grasses typically produce litter more quickly than the litter can decompose. This build-up results in decreased plant productivity and diversity, with much of the decrease attributed to low soil temperatures and nitrate levels that are associated with litter build-up. Historically, grazing and frequent fire reduced this litter build-up [5,30,124,145].

Little information was available on leadplant's relative contribution to fuel loads or its flammability as of 2011. Weaver [135] estimated its average dry-forage production at 150+ lbs/acre in tallgrass prairies across the Northern and Central Great Plains. A survey of 3 big bluestem prairies in Saline County, Kansas, showed leadplant reached greatest aboveground biomass (4.2 g/m²) and frequency (8.3%) in June [95].

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Fire adaptations and plant response to fire

More info for the terms: codominant, cover, density, fire tolerant, forb, forbs, frequency, mesic, natural, prescribed fire, restoration, rhizome, root crown, top-kill, warm-season

Fire adaptations: Leadplant sprouts from the rhizomes [17,80,133] after top-kill by fire. It can also sprout from the root crown [133], and may do so after top-kill by fire.

Plant response to fire: Leadplant is favored by fire [124] and is rated as fire tolerant [132]. On ungrazed, upland areas of the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area, for example, leadplant was codominant on a big bluestem site that had been spring-burned annually for at least 10 years. Leadplant did not occur on an adjacent unburned site [47]. Because of postfire rhizome sprouting, fire tends to increase leadplant's clonal size [80]. Rather than remove leadplant from prairie landscapes, frequent fire apparently restricts leadplant top-growth, so that leadplant assumes a forb-like appearance and growth form [134,136].

As of 2011, information on leadplant's ability to establish from seed after fire was lacking. One seed bank study suggests that leadplant stores seed in the soil [105], so postfire establishment from soil-stored seed may be possible. Leadplant seeds collected from burned and unburned plots on 2 tallgrass prairies showed no trend in germination when stratified for 4 weeks, then grown in the greenhouse. Small sample size (n=30 seeds/ treatment) [104] makes the study results difficult to interpret. Further tests are needed to determine if fire affects leadplant's ability to germinate.

Germination (%) of leadplant seed from 2 tallgrass Nebraskan prairies [104]
Site Burned Unburned
Hover Prairie 33 20
Stolley Prairie 3 3
Days to emergence (x, across sites) 14 40

Fire may increase leadplant flower and seed production. After fall prescribed burning on the Hayden Prairie in northeastern Iowa, Ehrenreich [43] noted a marked difference in summer flowering on her study sites: "Myriads of flowers of many forbs contributed to a continued contrast of the burned and unburned areas. The number of purple flowers of Amorpha canescens...accentuated this difference". Leadplant showed a similar response after an April prescribed fire on the Kalsow Prairie, Iowa. By August (postfire month 4), the mean number of inflorescences was significantly greater on burned plots (1,016/10 m²) compared to unburned plots (506/10 m²). Is biomass was significantly less on burned than unburned plots in June (postfire month 2), but by August, these differences were not significant (P=0.1) [100]. In Buffalo State River Park, Minnesota, a leadplant population produced more flowers the summer after a spring prescribed fire than before burning. The study site was on a tallgrass prairie-quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) gallery ecotone [93]. On Wisconsin tallgrass prairie remnants, leadplant flower production was greater on sites burned under prescription in May than on unburned plots. On dry sites, flower production was greater on sites burned in early spring than those burned in midspring. Flower production and growth on dry sites were 50% greater on plots burned on 26 March or 17 April compared to plots burned on 20 May (P≤0.1). On mesic sites, however, flower production and growth were similar on early- and midspring burns [52]. In contrast to these results, there was no significant difference in leadplant raceme production on burned and unburned sites in tallgrass prairie of northwestern Wisconsin [80].

Leadplant generally increases in abundance after prescribed fire. Increases are noted after both spring [73,92] and fall [91] burning.

Several studies have been conducted on the effects of spring prescribed fires on leadplant. In general, even annual burning has little effect on warm-season species such as leadplant if burning is conducted before about 1 May [4,127].

On lowlands on the Konza Prairie, leadplant had greater cover on sites burned annually under prescription than on unburned sites. On uplands, however, leadplant cover was similar on annually burned and unburned sites. Treatment areas were lowland tallgrass prairies on silt clays and upland tallgrass prairies on cherty silt-loams. Big bluestem dominated the community, and leadplant was an important associate in both areas. Annual burning was conducted for 14 years [1].

Mean leadplant cover (%, (SD)) on annually burned and unburned areas of the Konza Prairie [1]
Area burned unburned
Lowland 4.4 (1.9)a 0.3 (0.1)b
Upland 1.1 (0.4)b 1.6 (0.5)b
Values followed by different letters are significantly different (P<0.05).

In a big bluestem-little bluestem loess prairie in Iowa, the short-term cover of leadplant on prescribed burned sites was greater than leadplant cover on an adjacent, unburned site. Sites were burned in spring (early May), summer (early June), or fall (mid-September) of 1983. By postfire year 3, leadplant cover was greatest on fall-burned plots and least on unburned plots [25]:

Mean leadplant cover (%, (SD)) after burning in different seasons on a tallgrass prairie in Iowa [25]
Year Spring Summer Fall Unburned
1981 (prefire) 0 2 (1.2) 2 (1.2) trace
1983 (postfire months 4 & 3 for spring & summer plots, respectively) 1 (0.8) 8 (4.5) no data* 4 (2.1)
1984 (postfire year 1) 4 (2.1) 7 (3.6) 23 (5.2) 5 (2.7)
1986 (postfire year 3) 4 (3.2) 8 (2.7) 16 (4.8) 1 (0.8)
*Because burning had not yet been conducted, plots slated for fall burning were not sampled in 1983.

Repeated prescribed fires favored leadplant on the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area. Treatments included burning at 1-, 2-, or 4-year intervals or mowing at 1- or 2-year intervals with hay left in place or removed. Treatments began in 1972; the table below reports results as of 1983 (posttreatment year 12). Leadplant cover and frequency were greatest on plots burned every 4 years in April and least on plots mowed in July [46].

Leadplant abundance under different burning and mowing treatments on the Konza Prairie [46]
Treatment % cover (% frequency)
March burn, 1-yr interval 2.9 (35)
April burn, 1-yr interval 10 (37)
Nov. burn, 1-yr interval 1.9 (38)
April burn, 2-yr interval 11 (77)
April burn, 4-yr interval 21 (95)
July mow, hay left 0.02 (5)
July mow, hay removed 0.2 (5)
Nov. mow, hay left 7.2 (95)
Unburned 0.4 (22)

Leadplant sprouted on an east-central Nebraska big bluestem prairie restoration site after sod transplanting was followed by spring or fall prescribed fires. The authors speculated that leadplant was sprouting from remnant rootstocks (rhizomes) below the 12-inch (30 cm) deep cuts made for sod transplanting. Leadplant had 10% frequency before sod removal, sod transplant, and fire treatments. It had 1% to 3% frequency in postfire year 1 [24].

Leadplant response to season of burning was neutral in dry indiangrass-sideoats grama remnant prairie in south-central Wisconsin. Leadplant was a dominant forb. After late fall, early spring, or late spring prescribed burning for 8 of 10 years (1979-1989), leadplant showed no significant change in density. There was a severe spring and summer drought in 1988; most species declined on all plots during the drought. Leadplant's response to drought, however, was similar to its response to fire: Across treatments, it showed no significant change in density [53].

The authors speculated that the dryness of the sites, especially during the drought, hindered postfire reproduction of leadplant. In 1990, a year of "ample" rain, they observed high leadplant seedling densities [53].

Similarly, leadplant canopy cover and frequency remained stable after 14 years of annual spring or summer prescribed fires on the Konza Prairie. Prior to the study, the sites had been burned under a 3-year rotation, spring-burn prescription. Leadplant was dominant with the 3-year fire rotation, and it remained so with annual burning. The plant community was mixed big bluestem-sideoats grama prairie [121].

Mean percent canopy cover (and frequency) of leadplant in the 1st and 14th year of annual prescribed fires on the Konza Prairie [121]
Year Spring fires Summer fires
Uplands Lowlands Uplands Lowlands
1994 3.4 (63.4) 2.8 (45.2) 3.4 (64.2) 6.5 (82.6)
2007 3.4 (63.4) 4.0 (56.3) 2.9 (67.8) 7.6 (82.6)

On big bluestem rangelands in Kansas, leadplant increased on plots burned annually in fall or winter for 8 years [91].

Because it is slow-growing, leadplant recovery may take decades on degraded prairie sites, even after frequent prescribed fires. On the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie in Nebraska, a program of prescribed fire at least every 3 years and light-intensity, rotation grazing approximately every 4 years was implemented. Leadplant comprised 0.02% of total aboveground plant community biomass the first few years of treatments. After 16 years of treatments, its relative proportion of total aboveground biomass had increased to 0.13%. The plant community was mixed-grass big bluestem-western wheatgrass-little bluestem-sideoats grama prairie. The warm-season grasses, such as sideoats grama, declined "almost to extirpation" under this management [85].

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the terms: adventitious, ground residual colonizer, rhizome, root crown, shrub

POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY
[116]:
Small shrub, adventitious buds and/or a sprouting root crown
Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Ground residual colonizer (on site, initial community)

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Immediate Effect of Fire

Fire top-kills leadplant [17,80,133]. Because grassland fires tend to move rapidly and have relatively low temperatures ([3], review by [5]), the heat rarely penetrates more than 0.4 inch (1 cm) below the soil surface. Soil usually protects root crowns and other belowground tissues of prairie plants from fire (review by [5]).

A laboratory study suggests that grassland fires have little effect on leadplant seed. Leadplant germination with fire surrogate treatments (hot water or scarification) was similar to that of untreated seed. Pouring 140 °F (90 °C) water over leadplant seed and allowing the seed to soak for 4 hours resulted in 48% germination. Tumble scarification for 2 to 3 hours resulted in 58% germination, while untreated seed had 57% germination [40].

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: cover, fire exclusion, frequency, succession

Leadplant prefers open sites [128] but tolerates partial shade [132]. In bur oak communities of Wisconsin, leadplant frequency increased with increasing light intensity [35]. Leadplant may occur in all stages of plant succession on open sites, but it does not occur in closed-canopy forests (see Plant communities).

Leadplant tolerates frequent fire or mowing. When comparing species composition of remnant little bluestem-big bluestem prairies in Illinois, leadplant was found on managed cemeteries dating back to European settlement; most cemeteries with leadplant were burned under prescription "regularly". However, leadplant was not found on unmanaged railroad areas [32]. An Indiana study found leadplant on 23 of 24 pioneer cemeteries surveyed, sometimes surviving on a regularly mowed Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) lawn. The cemeteries were on silt loams, with big bluestem and indiangrass persisting around tombstones and fencerows [20].

Leadplant decreases with fire exclusion and/or heavy grazing. It is more common on ungrazed than grazed sites [114]. Its absence is considered an indicator of depauperate tallgrass prairies [21]; that is, of tallgrass prairies that have lost an important component of the vegetation (such as palatable forbs) due to continuous heavy grazing, frequent mowing, fire exclusion, or other events that are historically unprecedented.

On the Anderson Prairie State Preserve in Iowa, leadplant had significantly greater cover in undisturbed big bluestem-indiangrass prairie than on plains pocket gopher mounds (P=0.004) [143].

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Vegetative regeneration

More info for the terms: root crown, top-kill

Leadplant may sprout from rhizomes [24,80,117] or the root crown ([133], review by [147]) after top-kill.

The ability to sprout after dying back to the base enables tallgrass prairie plants to survive fire, drought, frost, browsing, and other top-killing events [5]. Leadplant tends to die back to the base each year, sprouting from basal stems and the root crown (review by [147]). In the greenhouse, poorly watered leadplant seedlings died back to their root crowns, but sprouted within "a few weeks" of regular watering [88].

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Seedling establishment and plant growth

More info for the terms: frequency, restoration

No information was available on leadplant seedling establishment.

Leadplant may spread slowly in tallgrass communities [8]. Several researchers reported relatively slow leadplant growth in tallgrass restoration projects [50,110,142]. Leadplant may spread over time, however. After leadplant seedlings were transplanted on the Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Illinois, leadplant frequency increased from 4% in its transplant year to 73% in its 15th year [69]. On an old-field restoration site in Illinois that covered approximately 0.7 acre (0.3 ha), seeded leadplant increased from 4 to 69 plants in 9 years [68].

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Seed banking

More info for the terms: density, restoration, shrub

Leadplant apparently has a soil seed bank [105], although longevity of soil-stored seed was unknown as of 2011. In a common garden in Wisconsin, leadplant seeds germinated the year they were sown, with no emergents the next year [60]. In the greenhouse, leadplant seedling emergence was greatest in soils collected from mixed-grass communities in the Loess Hills Wildlife Area of Iowa [105]:

Density of leadplant emergents from soils of different Iowa plant communities [105]
Community (dominant species) Emergents/m²
Deciduous shrub (Cornus drummondii/Ulmus spp.) 0.0
Deciduous woodland (Ulmus spp./Cornus drummondii) 0.0
tallgrass prairie (Andropogon gerardii-Sorghastrum nutans) 29.3
nonnative grassland (Poa pratensis-Bromus inermis) 64.2
mixed-grass prairie (Schizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua curtipendula) 128.3

Leadplant may comprise a small portion of total plant community seed rain. In a large-scale harvest of seeds in big bluestem-indiangrass tallgrass prairies in Minnesota and North Dakota, leadplant seeds never exceeded 1% of total plant community seed production. To increase total seed yields, most prairies had been burned under prescription the spring before late summer and fall seed collections. Big bluestem and indiangrass dominated the plant communities' seed rains. Seeds were collected for restoration projects [90].

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Seed production

Flower and Leadplant can be a prodigious flower and seed producer. A single plant may support up to 30 flowering stems and 3,000 flowers [113]. In Dickinson County, Iowa, leadplant showed good flower and seed production on remnant prairies, including those on private reserves and along roadsides. Across 8 populations, the absolute number of flowering leadplant stems (and flowering stem density) ranged from 12,545 stems (1 stem/m²) for a population on a private reserve to 14 stems (0.6 stem/m²) for a roadside population. The roadside population had significantly fewer flowers fertilized, more seeds destroyed by predators, and fewer filled seeds than populations from larger areas (P<0.01 for all variables). The reason for this low production was unclear. The authors suggested that small population size was a factor; however, because other small roadside populations showed relatively good flower production, there might have been other contributing factors [54]. In another study in Dickinson County, seed set was not correlated with leadplant population size [80].

On the northern Flint Hills of Kansas, leadplant produced fewer flowering stems on sites with moderate- or high-level cattle grazing intensity than on sites with low-level or no grazing (P≤0.05). Intensities were set as:

low= 0.26 AU/ha
moderate=0.36 AU/ha
high=0.56 AU/ha [55].

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Pollination and breeding system

More info for the term: protogynous

Many insects visit leadplant flowers (see IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE), but bees (Apoidea) and beetles (Coleoptera) are apparently the most efficient pollinators. Solitary bees are leadplant's primary native pollinators [113]; honeybees also pollinate the flowers [65]. In northwestern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota, leadplant fruit set increased with increasing bee species diversity (P≤0.03) [113]. In Wisconsin, 3 beetle species pollinated most leadplant flowers [80].

Leadplant is an obligate outcrosser with protogynous flowers [113].

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Regeneration Processes

More info for the term: breeding system

Leadplant regenerates from seed and by cloning. It is unclear which method is more common. Limited studies suggest that leadplant establishes and grows slowly (see Growth and Value for Rehabilitation of Disturbed Sites).

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: geophyte, phanerophyte

Raunkiaer [97] life form:
Phanerophyte
Geophyte

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Life Form

More info for the terms: forb, shrub

Shrub-forb

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Fire Regime Table

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Seed dispersal

No information was available on this topic.

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Germination

In the field, leadplant seeds likely overwinter before germinating. Leadplant germination increases with stratification [117] and/or scarification [15,16,22,40,117] in the laboratory. Leadplant seed requires temperatures above 68 °F (20 °C) to germinate [15,16]. In the greenhouse, leadplant seed collected from a remnant prairie in southern Wisconsin germinated slowly over several weeks, with germination peaking at 20 days [88]. Germination rates range widely in the laboratory, with seeds lots averaging 20% to 92% germination [5,16,22,129]. Fire surrogate treatments (scarification or heat) had either no effect or improved germination rates in the laboratory. Heat scarification or grinding resulted in germination rates similar to that of untreated seeds (about 50%) [40]. Hot water baths increased leadplant germination over that of untreated seed (review by [146]).

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: phenology, warm-season

This plant is a warm-season [33,118,132] species. Depending on location, leadplant resumes or begins growth in early May, flowers in late June or July, and disperses seed in late August or September. It stays green until frost [132].
Phenology of leadplant across most of its range
Area Event Date
Colorado seeds ripe August-September [129]
Illinois flowers May-August [84]
Iowa, northwestern flowers late June-early August [113]
seeds mature early September [80]
Kansas flowers May-August [10,14,119]
Minnesota, southwestern flowers late June-early August [113]
Missouri flowers May-August [103]
New Mexico flowers June-August [28]
Texas, Cross-Timbers & Panhandle flowers May-July [38]
Wisconsin flowers July-mid-August [52]
Wyoming, Fort Union Basin flowers complete by early July
seeds ripe late July-early September [42]
Great Plains flowers May-August [48,117]
fruits ripe August-September [16,114]
Southwest flowers June-July
fruits ripe August-September [128]

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Amorpha canescens

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Barcode of Life Data Systems

Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

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

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

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Leadplant has legal conservation status in several states. Information on state- and province-level protection status of plants in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe.

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Management

Management considerations

More info for the term: forb

Leadplant is an indicator of rangelands in good to excellent condition [26,33,61,117,118]. It was characterized as the best forb indicator of Nebraska mixed-grass prairies in excellent condition [26]. Leadplant can be productive on rangeland in good condition. Weaver [135] estimated its dry-forage production at 150+ lbs/acres in such tallgrass prairies of the Northern and Central Great Plains.

Leadplant decreases with heavy grazing [33,62,101,117,118] and is rare on overgrazed rangelands. On the northern Flint Hills of Kansas, leadplant biomass decreased with increasing cattle grazing intensity (P≤0.05) [55]. Light to moderate grazing may have no effect or a positive effect on leadplant. In tallgrass prairie of northeastern Illinois, leadplant stem counts were significantly greater on sites with white-tailed deer than on sites where white-tailed deer were excluded [7].

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

More info for the term: restoration

Leadplant is used for prairie restoration [89], and its seed is commercially available [117]. It is valuable on many sites due to its nitrogen-fixing ability [27]. However, it may be difficult to establish from seed [19,67,141] or seedling transplants [88,96]. In southern Wisconsin, leadplant showed good survival when transplanted at 1 year old, but it showed poor survival when broadcast seeded or transplanted as seedlings [88]. On tallgrass restoration sites in south-central Kansas, transplanted leadplant seedlings were the 5th-slowest growing of 18 broadleaved species [96]. Transplanted leadplant seedlings showed good survival on a tallgrass restoration sites in Illinois, however. Weather was "ideal" for transplanting [130].

See these sources for propagation information: [16,42,129,132,147].

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

More info for the terms: cover, restoration

Leadplant provides important forage for wildlife and livestock. Stubbendieck and others [118] describe it as "excellent, highly nutritive, and palatable for livestock and wildlife; commonly selected over other species".

Many insects feed on leadplant. A survey on prairie remnants in eastern Minnesota found 47 insect species visited leadplant flowers [98]. Butterflies and honeybees consume leadplant nectar; honeybees also eat the pollen [65,80]. The federally endangered Karner blue butterfly [125] feeds on the nectar [83,108]. Grasshopper, leafhopper, and beetle species browse the foliage [70,80].

Palatability and nutritional value: Typically, leadplant is highly palatable to browsing ungulates [55,117,119,135], which usually select it before other species [117]. In the Central Black Hills, cattle browsed leadplant in summer [126]. However, leadplant use may vary spatially and temporally. In another Black Hills study, white-tailed deer did not browse leadplant [56]. In a restoration project in the Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Minnesota, leadplant was among the species that white-tailed deer, eastern cottontails, and rodents avoided. The area had been plowed and sown with native herbs. Asters (Asteraceae) were most heavily consumed [44].

See these sources: [87,107] for information on the nutritional value of leadplant.

Cover value: Small mammals, nongame birds [39], and game birds use leadplant as cover. On the Sheyenne National Grasslands of North Dakota, prairie sharp-tailed grouse in upland switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) communities used leadplant as their primary day-roost plant [82].

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Other uses and values

Leadplant is grown as an ornamental [117,128].

Native Americans used leadplant medicinally [65,118,118]. Dried leaves were used to make tea [118,118] and for smoking [118].

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Wikipedia

Amorpha canescens

Amorpha canescens (Leadplant, Leadplant amorpha, Prairie shoestring) is a 30–90 cm (1–3 feet) tall deciduous shrub in the Pea family (Fabaceae) that is native to North America. It has very small purple flowers which are grouped in racemes. The compound leaves of this plant appear leaden due to their dense hairiness. The roots can grow deeper than 1.2 meters (4 ft). This plant can be found growing in well drained soils of prairies, bluffs, and open woodlands.[1]

Leadplant was used by various Indigenous Peoples to treat a number of medical problems.[2] In addition the Oglala used the leaves both as a tea and as a smoking mixture when combined with buffalo fat.[3]

Amorpha canescens was described for science by Frederick Pursh in 1814. Canescens is a botanical Latin term meaning "becoming grey".[4]

References[edit]

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Source: Wikipedia

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Synonyms

Amorpha brachycarpa Palmer [103]

Amorpha canescens Nutt. [111]

Amorpha canescens var. glabrata Gray [128]

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The scientific name of leadplant is Amorpha canescens Pursh (Fabaceae) [10,38,48,65,84,117,138]. Leadplant and indigobush (A. fruticosa) may hybridize rarely (review by [147]).

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Common Names

leadplant

lead plant

downy indigobush

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