Tephrosia virginiana (Goat's-rue)

Plant Info
Also known as: Virginia Tephrosia, Catgut, Hoary-pea, Rabbit-pea
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, sun; acidic sandy soil, gravel prairie, open woods, savannah
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:8 to 28 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] A cluster of beautiful bi-color flowers at the end of a stem. Flowers of this pea family member are ½ to ¾ inch wide and have a creamy yellow colored erect hood (the standard) with two pink, rudder shaped lateral petals (the wings) that loosely drape along side the lower lip (keel) that is a lighter yellowish pink. The outer surface of the upper standard, calyx and flower stalks are covered with fine dense hairs.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in groups of 15 to 31. Leaflets are oval elliptic to lance elliptic with pointed tips, ½ to 1 long, to 3/8 inch wide, finely hairy on the underside especially along the midrib, silky hairy to hairless on the upper surface. Stems are densely hairy and few branched, with multiple stems from a single crown.


Goat's-rue is restricted to Minnesota's southeast counties preferring acidic, open sandy prairie soils with sparse tree cover present. Dry site adapted invasive species such as spotted knapweed and leafy spurge present constant concerns for species such as this with already diminished populations from habitat lose to agriculture and over grazing. According to the DNR, it was designated a State Special Concern species in 1984. It does not do well as a garden plant due to its specific soil requirements. Factoid: Back in the days before binomial nomenclature (2-word genus-species Latin names) came into being, a species scientific name might have been several words long, to be as descriptive as possible. In the 1800s naturalist Charles Pickering referred to Goat's-rue as Cicer astragaloides virginianus hirsutie pubescens floribus amplis subrubentibus.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Wild Ones Twin Cities Chapter

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in the Whitewater Management Area in Winona county.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.