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Showy Tick Trefoil Desmodium canadense


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Showy Tick Trefoil - habit and leaf
credit: Frank Mayfield/CCSA

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Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description Erect, bushy, velvet-hairy plant with crowded, elongated terminal clusters of pink or rose-purple pea-like flowers.
Habit: native perennial herb; stems slender, ribbed, branched at top.
Height: 2-6 ft (0.6-1.8 m).
Leaf: alternate, trifoliate; leaflets lanceolate, pointed, 1-3.5 in (3-9 cm) long, 0.5-1.75 in (1-3.5 cm) wide.
Flower: pale pink to purple, drying dark blue, sweet pea-like, to 0.5 in (12 mm) wide; in branched terminal cluster of multiple flower spikes, 2.5-8 in (6-20 cm) tall, often nodding.
Fruit: flat pod, somewhat curving, in 3-6 oval to rounded triangular segments, covered with hooked clingy hairs.

Flower June to September.

Flower June - September

Habitat Moist to wet: open woodlands, forest edges, stream banks, shorelines, ditches, floodplains, thickets.

Range Native to central and northeastern North America, from Quebec south to Virginia, west to Illinois, southwest to Arkansas and Texas, north to North Dakota and Manitoba.

Discussion Also known as Canadian tick trefoil. The most showy of the Tick Trefoils is one of some two dozen species distinguished by their leaf and fruit shape. The distinctively jointed fruits, known as loments, break into 1-seeded segments, that stick to clothes and animal fur, thus facilitating seed dispersal.

Comments Like other members of the pea family, tick-trefoil requires the presense of microorganisms which inhabit nodules on the plant's root system and produce nitrogen compounds necessary for the plant's survival. Soil/seed inoculum is available at most native plant nurseries. Once established, this plant will vigorously resprout from the roots if the top is cut back.

Exposure Preference Sun to partial sun.

Native Distribution Nova Scotia to s. Saskatchewan, s. to Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana & Oklahoma

Site Preference Open woods; rocky or sandy prairies; stream banks; roadsides; waste places

Soil Preference Moist soils. Indifferent to soil acidity.