Amorpha nana (Fragrant False Indigo)

Plant Info
Also known as: Dwarf False Indigo, Dwarf Lead Plant, Smooth Lead Plant, Fragrant Indigo-bush
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; dry prairie
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:1 to 2 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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: indistinct Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Single, 1 to 3-inch dense spike clusters of small vibrantly colored tubular-like flowers at the ends of branching stems. Individual flowers are less than ¼ inch long, the “tube” a single upper petal (in Fabacea called the “standard”) wrapped tightly around a cluster of bright red stamens protruding out the center, contrasting with the deep purple to blue-violet petal color. A dark sepal with five lance-like lobes covers the lower half of the rolled petal. Flowers bloom from the bottom of the spike up.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in groups of 6 to 15 leaflet pairs, alternately attached on the branching stems. The compound leaf is up to 3 inches long. Leaflets average about ½ long, are oblong-oval, bluntly rounded at both ends, often with an abrupt sharp point at the tip; surfaces are smooth, the undersides have conspicuous translucent dots. Main stems are woody, brown and generally simple to few branched below but typically produce clusters of non-woody, flowering branches in the crown that die back every year. Stems appear smooth and glossy but may have fine, short hairs pressed against the surface.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruits are small green pods with a smooth, glandular surface, each pod containing a single seed.


Amorpha nana is found in open prairie like the similar and closely related Amorpha canescens (Lead Plant) but its range extends neither as far west or east as the latter species. Its relatively short stature may limit it to short grass regions though it does not appear to be as tolerant of extremely sandy soils. The two species are readily differentiated by the lack of fine hairs on A. nana, giving it a darker green appearance; the dense, fine coating on common A. canescens gives it a lighter, duller appearance (leaden) from which it got its common name. The flower spike of A. nana is more stout and always single while A. canescens is longer, more slender and typically has multiple spikes at each branch tip, the flowers with orange stamens rather than red.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Lac Qui Parle WMA. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lac Qui Parle WMA and in North Dakota.


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

Posted by: Karine - Camden State Park
on: 2011-12-18 23:18:13

Seen this in the remnant prairies at Camden.

Posted by: Jennifer T - Arden Hills
on: 2018-06-06 17:29:17

There's quite a bit blooming in a grassy field at the corner of Cty Rd E and New Brighton Rd (the SW corner of Tony Schmitt Regional Park).

Posted by: Davis - Murray and Cottonwood Counties
on: 2021-09-30 11:53:48

I know of a couple populations in Cottonwood County and at least one in Murray.

Posted by: Linda - Schaefer Prairie Nature Conservancy site - McCleod County
on: 2022-06-14 15:28:32

Lots in full bloom on June 12, 2022

Posted by: Natalie - Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge - Sherburne County
on: 2024-06-08 21:21:55

Observed in a sand prairie on the Blue Hill Trail, June 8, 2024.

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