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White Prairie Clover Dalea candida (Petalostemum candidum, Petalostemon candidus)


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White Prairie Clover - habit
credit: Peter Gorman/CCSA

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Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description White prairie clover bears small white flower spikes, sometimes fragrant, from a heavy taproot and hardened stem base.
Habit: native or introduced perennial herb; usually 8 or more stems, ribbed, sparsely branched at the top; taprooted; forms small clumps.
Height: 12-24 in (30-60 cm)
Leaf: alternate, pale green, oddly pinnate, 2-7 in (5-18 cm) long; 3-13 leaflets, linear to narrowly lanceolate, pointed, to 1.5 in (38 mm) long and 0.25 in (6 mm) wide.
Flower: tiny, white, 0.25-0.4 in (6-9 mm) long and wide, 5-parted, with 5 stamens; held in very dense, cylindrical, terminal spike, to 3 in (7.5 cm) tall and 0.75 in (2 cm) diameter, of 75 or more flowerheads, blooming from the bottom up.
Fruit: short oval pod, thin-walled, 0.125 in (3 mm) long, sticky.

Flower May to September.

Habitat Open, well-drained, mesic to dry sites: lightly- or moderately-grazed native prairies, savannas, meadows, rocky hillsides, foothills, open woodland, forest clearings, waste places, roadsides; also cultivated for landscape restoration, as an ornamental.

Range Native to central North America, from Alberta south to Arizona and into Mexico, east to Georgia and South Carolina, north to Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ontario; also reported in New Hampshire and West Virginia; at elevations below 7,000 ft.

Discussion Also called slender white prairie clover, prairie clover. White prairie clover has an important ecological role in native grasslands because it fixes nitrogen in the soil while providing nutritious forage for antelope, deer, elk, and upland game birds, particularly sharp-tail grouse. Plains pocket gophers utilize the taproots and numerous birds and rodents eat the seed.

This species, and others with only five stamens and petals that are all rather similar, were once placed in the genus Petalostemon. White Dalea (D. albiflora), found from Arizona and southwestern New Mexico south to Mexico, resembles White Prairie Clover but has 10 stamens.