Astragalus lotiflorus (Lotus Milkvetch)
|Also known as:||Low Milk-vetch|
|Habitat:||sun; sandy prairie, dunes, hills|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||3 to 6 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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A tight round cluster of up to 8 pea-like flowers on a 2 to 4-inch hairy stem. Flowers are about ½ inch long, the upper standard erect and mostly white to creamy yellow or with shades of pink or purple and darker purplish streaks in the center. The two laterals petals are half its size, erect to horizontal; a small keel is nearly hidden between them. The calyx lobes are awl-like and, like the stalk, covered in long white hairs.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are compound in groups of 7 to 17, up to 3 inches long, basal as well as alternate leaves branching near the base. Leaflets are ¼ to ½ inch long, lance-elliptic to oblong, tips blunt or with a small abrupt point, densely hairy underneath and sparsely hairy to nearly hairless on the upper surface. The leafy appendages where the compound leaf meets the stem (stipules) are between 1/8 to ¼ inch long, rounded with a sharply pointed tip. Stems are covered in long white hairs, multiple from the base, and erect to spreading.
The fruit is a densely hairy, stalkless pea-pod between 6/10 and 1¼ inches long.
Like most of the North American Astragalus, Lotus Milk-vetch is a species of drier, short grass prairie of which Minnesota sits at the very eastern edge. While not presently listed by the DNR, it is tracked by the Natural Heritage Program due to the scarcity of its habitat that faces the same threats as other listed milk-vetches: agricultural grazing, gravel mining and invasive species. While the small flower clusters are similar to other Astragalus species, the usually yellowish flowers, overall hairiness and small stature even at maturity distinguish A. lotiflorus from the rest.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Seven Sisters Prairie, Douglas County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?