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Scarlet Locoweed Astragalus coccineus


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Scarlet Locoweed
credit: Chris Wagner, U.S. Forest Service

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Alternate name: Scarlet Milk-vetch

Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description Long, red pea flowers angle upward in loose heads above tufted, white, woolly, pinnately compound leaves.
Habit: native perennial herb; gray-green, white-hairy; clump-forming.
Height: 4-8 in (10-20 cm).
Leaf: alternate, odd-pinnate; 7-15 small leaflets, oval, pointed, to 0.6 in (15 mm) long.
Flower: bright red, 1-1.5 in (3-4 cm) long; in erect cluster of up to 10 flowerheads.
Fruit: pod, plump and heavy, to 1.5 in (4 cm) long; often bending plant to the ground; drying to fuzzy, leathery texture.

Warning All plants in the genus Astragalus are potentially toxic to humans and animals if ingested, causing a disorder called locoism. The milk from an animal that has ingested Astragalus plants may also be toxic. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower March to June.

Habitat Open gravelly mountain sites: canyons, ridges, benches; pinyon, juniper, or sagebrush communities.

Range Native to southeastern California, southern Nevada, and western Arizona, into northern Baja California.

Discussion Also called scarlet milkvetch, freckled milkvetch. Of the several low, tufted western Astragalus species with plump, woolly pods, this is the most spectacular. The unusually long red flowers, a rare color in the genus, are positioned to be easily accessible to hummingbirds.