Lespedeza leptostachya (Prairie Bush Clover)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prairie Lespedeza, Slender-spike Lespedeza
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
  • Federally Threatened
  • State Threatened
Habitat:sun; dry prairies
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Flowers are loosely borne on slender spikes, 1 to 3 inches long, on a slender hairy stalk arising from leaf axils on the upper stem. Flowers are small and pea-shaped, white to pale pink lips with a reddish throat, ¼ to 1/3 inch long. The calyx holding the flower is about ¼ inch long and densly hairy, with long narrow sharply pointed lobes.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in groups of 3, on a short stalk. Leaflets are linear to narrowly oblong and of equal size, ¾ to 1¾ inches long, 1/10 to 1/3 inch wide, and toothless. The plant form is slender but stiff and erect, stems minimally branched, all portions covered by short, sparse, velvety hairs (pubescent),

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a small, flat, oval pod about 1/8 inch long and is densely covered in fine hairs.


One of Minnesota's four federally listed plant species, Prairie Bush Clover is endemic to just small regions of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. While probably never widespread even prior to European settlement, the wholesale loss of prairie habitat quickly pushed this species to the edge. According to the DNR, this species was listed as State Endangered in 1984 and downgraded to Threatened in 1996.

While Prairie Bush Clover is obviously a prairie species, studies at the Chicago Botanic Garden showed it isn't very competitive with prairie grasses such as Little Bluestem, but grazing by bison, which are selective grass eaters, improved plant health and seed production. While the DNR has long-term monitoring programs in place for this species, it is unknown what conclusions or specific conservation and management practices have resulted from them.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cottonwood, Dakota and Goodhue counties.


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

Posted by: Karine - Lakefield, MN
on: 2011-01-30 10:36:36

Prairie Bush Clover SNA would be a great place to look out for this plant. Unfortunately I never found it when I was there but I've heard of other people finding it. The SNA is very small in Kilen-Woods State Park, but very beautiful prairie in Kilen-Woods State Park where lots of Pasque flower blooms in the spring.

Posted by: Shelley - Cottonwood County
on: 2011-03-18 01:14:08

Jeffers Petroglyphs State Historic Site has a tall grass prairie restoration area (the first in Minnesota) as well as 30 acres of remnant prairie. It is said to have one of the largest populations in Minnesota of the Prairie Bush Clover. You can see a large patch of plants right off the path near the interpretive center. You would never know it was an endangered species by looking at the dense population. The best time to identify it is when it flowers in mid-July. There is a sign to show where the patch is located. Kilen Woods SNA has a very nice section that is under research but it is off the path. Cottonwood River SNA also has areas where the plant is found.

Posted by: Denis - Palmer Twsp., Sherburne Co
on: 2012-08-12 17:42:01

There appears to be quiet a lot of prairie bush clover on our property in Sec. 9

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-08-12 18:40:04

Denis, it is more probable you have a different species than Lespedeza leptostachya. This is quite a rare species, one the DNR tracks closely, and there is no record of it in Sherburne County (yet). If you post a photo on the Minnesota Wildflowers Facebook page we could probably tell you what you really have there.

Posted by: jeff - dakota co, n. eagan
on: 2015-11-22 21:05:30

Is there anyway to buy some prairie bush clover seeds? I have round headed growing on my restored vacant lot. I bet there is not, or the species wouldn't be rare, right?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-11-22 21:35:28

This is a federally threatened species. I am unaware if seed is for sale anywhere, but I doubt it.

Posted by: Davis - Watonwan County
on: 2020-09-18 13:30:35

Discovered first record in Watonwan County this spring. Specimen was submitted to the herbarium by the MBS.

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