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Northern Sweet-vetch Hedysarum boreale


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Northern Sweet-vetch - habit
credit: Alaska

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Alternate name: Boreal Sweet-vetch

Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description Bushy, but often leaning on nearby plants, plains sweet-broom bears racemes of reddish-purple flowers densely clustered atop stalks near the tips of the weakly erect stems.
Habit: native perennial herb; several to many stems from a a thickened base atop a heavy taproot.
Height: 8-24 in (20-60 cm).
Leaf: alternate, silver-green, silky-hairy, oddly pinnate, 2-3 in (5-7.5 cm) long; 7-15 leaflets, ovate, 0.5-0.8 in (12-20 mm) long, 0.25 in (6 mm) wide.
Flower: reddish-purple to magenta, butterfly-liked, 0.4-0.75 in (10-19 mm) long; in dense stalked cluster of up to 36 flowerheads.
Fruit: pod/loment, with 2-5 segments separating at maturity.

Flower May to August.

Habitat Open, dry sites; semi-deserts, prairies, pastures, forest openings, shrublands, canyons, desert shrub and pinyon-juniper communities; to 9500 ft (2900 m); also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Native to northern and western North America, in Alaska and throughout Canada (except some parts of the east), and from Washington south to Nevada and Arizona, west to Texas, north to the Dakotas (not reported in Kansas or Nebraska).

Discussion Also called boreal sweetvetch, Utah sweetvetch, sweetvetch, plains sweet-broom, wild sweet pea, bear root. Up to six subspecies are proposed.

The roots of Hedysarum boreale var. mackenzii, also called rabbit root, are reputed to be poisonous to humans.