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Illinois Tick Trefoil Desmodium illinoense


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Illinois Tick Trefoil - habit
credit: Joshua Mayer/CCSA

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Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description A spindly, hairy stem topped with a slender, elongated cluster of many white, purple, or lavender-pink pea flowers.
Habit: native perennial herb; erect or trailing, sparsely branched.
Height: 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) or more, sometimes to 6 ft (1.8 m).
Leaf: alternate, long-stalked, trifoliate; leaflets lanceolate, leathery, rough above and below, prominently veined below, to 4 in (10 cm) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide; leaf stalk is much longer than the terminal leaflet.
Flower: small, white to pink to purple, sweet pea-like, 0.3 in (8 mm) long, stalked; in long, loose terminal cluster, 6-18 in (15-45 cm) tall.
Fruit: segmented pod, straight, 0.5-1 in (12-25 mm) long, with 2-9 round segments, covered with hooked, clingy hair.

Flower July to August.

Flower June - September

Habitat Open, dry to mesic sites with rich soil: prairies, hillsides, pastures, glades, ravines, roadsides.

Range Native to north-central North America, from Ontario south to Ohio, southwest to Illinois and Arkansas, west to Oklahoma, north to South Dakota and Minnesota.

Discussion Thought to be extinct in Ohio. A showy plant when in flower, this species develops long fruits with segments that separate and attach themselves to clothing, thereby promoting seed dispersal.

Comments Like other members of the pea family, this plant 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.

Exposure Preference Sun to partial sun.

Native Distribution Ohio, s. Michigan, s.e. Minnesota & s.e. South Dakota, s. to e. Texas

Site Preference Mesic to moist fields; prairie ravines; hillsides; open woods; roadsides

Soil Preference Rich, moist soils