Desmodium canadense (Showy Tick-trefoil)

Plant Info
Also known as: Hoary Tick-trefoil, Canada Tick-clover
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; average to moist sandy or rocky soil; prairies, along shores, along roads, railroads, open woods
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACU NCNE: FAC
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: raceme Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] 1 or more spike-like racemes, usually densely packed, of stalked flowers at the top of the stem and arising from upper leaf axils. Flowers are pea-shaped, about ½ inch long, pink to purple with 2 yellow spots near the base of the broad upper lobe. The stamens and pistil form a curving tube that protrudes from the center, between the 2 lateral petals. The calyx behind the flower and the short flower stalk are reddish green and hairy.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in 3s, alternately attached. Leaflets are hairy, more densely hairy along major veins on the underside, to 3 inches long and 1 inch wide with a rounded or slightly tapering base and blunt point at the tip. The 2 lateral leaflets are short-stalked to nearly stalkless, the end leaflet longer stalked. Stalks are hairy. The compound leaf stalk is up to about ¾ inch long, usually shorter than the stalk of the terminal leaflet, though the lowest leaves may be longer stalked.

[photo of leaf stalk, stipules and stem] At the base of the leaf stalk is a pair of leafy appendages (stipules) that are linear to narrowly awl-shaped and up to about 1/3 inch long. Stems are unbranched except in the flower clusters, ridged, rough with spreading hairs, and erect to ascending or sometimes sprawling. Some hairs may have tiny hooks at the tip (magnification required to see) but most are straight.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a flat pod 1 to 2½ inches long with 3 to 5 sections, the sections convex on the upper edge and well rounded on the lower, and each containing a single seed.

[photo of seed] Seeds are kidney-shaped, about 4 mm long, and mature to brown. The pod is densely covered in tiny hooked hairs that latch onto anything that passes by.


Showy Tick-trefoil tends to grow in clumps. The leaves and flowers are most similar to the related Illinois Tick-trefoil (Desmodium illinoense) and Large-bract Tick-trefoil (Desmodium cuspidatum), both of which have more loosely arranged flower clusters, compound leaf stalks that are much longer than the terminal leaflet stalk, and larger, more prominent stipules. D. illinoense also typically has a single raceme and its pod segments are well rounded on both edges; D. cuspidatum leaves are more evenly hairy on the lower surface, only slightly more dense on the major veins, and pod segments are more triangular.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Wild River State Park, Chisago County, and in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.


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

Posted by: Janice - Kanabec County
on: 2009-08-09 12:37:17

These grow abundantly in Kanabec County.

Posted by: Denise - clay county near Rollag
on: 2010-07-26 09:26:45

This plant grows in clumps in our front yard. We mow around it because we like the flowers and unlike the pointed leaf tick-trefoil, the blossoms don't turn into snags.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2010-07-26 13:14:53

There is a prairie remnant near me that has a fair amount of showy tick-trefoil in it. If I go through there in late summer, when I come out my clothes are just plastered with its pods. It is worse than pointed leaf tick-trefoil, I think. :-) I carefully pluck the pods from my clothes and save them, to be replanted elsewhere.

Posted by: Patricia - Baxter, Mn
on: 2010-07-29 20:23:48

North of Baxter on Hwy 371. Very abundant and beautiful.

Posted by: Mark - Oakdale Nature Preserve, Oakdale MN
on: 2010-08-21 15:14:19

Several (mostly shady) locations in Oakdale Nature Preserve. Seen blooming in late July-early August 2010.

Posted by: Debbie - St. Louis Park
on: 2010-08-30 22:33:51

Edenbrook Conservation Area in Eden Prairie has a good number of these. Have also seen a few on Jim's Prairie, Maplewood.

Posted by: Rachel - Redwood County
on: 2013-07-17 21:07:51

Birch Coulee County Park

Posted by: Kat - Mill Lake near Alexandria in Douglas County
on: 2013-07-18 13:43:06

It was in a ditch by the road in a pretty sunny location. First time seeing it. They're not too common in this area but it was a rather beautiful plant. The plant was about 3' tall.

Posted by: Troy - Lyon County, MN
on: 2014-07-21 13:33:48

Plant found in very large abundance (1+ acre) southwest of Marshall on native prairie site.

Posted by: Marc - Grant County
on: 2014-08-20 15:44:33

Keep STT to a minimum (less than .01 lb./Acre). My mix was .03 and it crowded out other natives and is now quite dominant. Bumblebees, native bees like it. Keep it spotty and you'll be happy. Better yet, don't plant anything with the word "Trefoil" in it.

Posted by: Dave - Nicollet Cnty ditch of Cnty Rd 17, 2 miles N of State Hwy 14
on: 2015-07-19 13:59:50

Just noticed growing in ditch in standing water this summer. Ditch is routinely mowed and baled by local farmer. Was just mowed 2 days ago but did not mow this section due to standing water.

Posted by: linda - Shooting Star Prairie SNA
on: 2015-08-22 09:32:52

Found on a guided tour of this area on 8-8-15.

Posted by: Janet H - McGregor -- Big Sandy Lake
on: 2017-07-23 11:36:54

I stopped mowing a part of our shoreline on an island on Big Sandy Lake this summer, and this plant showed up in abundance. We'd never seen it before, and were happy to discover it has pretty purple flowers. Nice foliage too.

Posted by: Phil Hartley - Lake County MN
on: 2018-07-20 20:19:43

A clump is growing on Old North Shore Road in Larsmont. Never seen it there before and I have walked the road "flowering" many times over the last 10 or so years. Must have somehow jumped from St. Louis to Lake County.

Posted by: Mike - Bloomington, Hyland Park
on: 2020-08-16 17:00:41

Used a plant identifying app on a pretty big bunch of flowers along a trail and was surprised to find it is a native with a somewhat ugly name. Now I need to figure out how to get some to plant in my lot.

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