Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Desmodium paniculatum


Panicledleaf Tick trefoil is a sprawling member of the pea family that is native to most of Eastern North America. It's truly a plant of the woodlands or wilder areas in our gardens. Somehow, it has comfortably established itself in my garden....It's especially happy in the wayback Garden of Benign Neglect. Honestly, it's taken awhile for me to open my heart to them, but, after a half dozen years, we are getting along fine.

©David J White

I can't promise you that this dainty flower will wow your human garden visitors, but it will make the many critters that live in or visit your garden happy.

It's a host plant for one of the sweetest little butterflies to visit our gardens...the Eastern Tailed Blue. But that's not all.  According to Illinois Wildflowers: Bumbles, and other long tongued bees like leaf-cutting bees and long-horned bees feed on the pollen. The caterpillars of Hoary Edge skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Southern Cloudywing skipper and Northern Cloudywing skipper feed on the leaves and the caterpillars of the Gray Hairstreak butterfly eat the flowers and developing seedpods. Other insects include: many kinds of beetles, and some species of thrips, aphids, moth caterpillars, and stinkbugs. The seeds are eaten by some upland gamebirds (Bobwhite Quail, Wild Turkey) and small rodents (White-Footed Mouse, Deer Mouse), while the foliage is readily eaten by White-Tailed Deer and other hoofed mammalian herbivores. The Cottontail Rabbit also consumes the foliage. 
 
Photo ©David G Smith
Even if you've never noticed the sprawling plant covered with dainty pink flowers, I bet you've spent time pulling it or another Desmodium's velcro seeds off your socks and pants after a hike in the woods or through a field.


If you want seeds, just let me know! I've already gotten a good head start on collecting them.
©David J White
I look forward to the dainty blooms at the end of the summer. Dainty is the operative word; the flowers are about 1/4 of an inch and they bloom in a panicle at the end of the stalk. They open bottom to top and it's not unusual to have buds, blooms and seedpods all at once. Desmodium paniculatum is a pioneer plant, which accounts for the abundance of seeds it produces. If you have one plant, then you'll soon have more.

The origin of the word Desmodium is Greek and means "long branch or chain", which makes perfect sense when you look at the fruit/pod. Those sticky seedpods (loments) cling to the fur of animals and the clothing of humans and are carried far from the parent plant. I am pretty sure that's how they landed in my garden.

I've come to appreciate the masses of tiny flowers, the cool looking seedpods and the enormous wildlife value they bring to my garden. But, would I recommend you add them to your space?

©David J White
I think you need to figure that out for yourselves. I will be glad to supply seeds.
xoxogail

The particulars

Fabaceae (Pea Family)
Range: native to eastern and southern North America
Common Names: Panicled leaf tick trefoil, Narrowleaf tick trefoil 
Duration: Perennial
Bloom Time: Summer
Flower: pink pea like flower about 1/4 inches
Fruit: Pod. Their fruit are loments, meaning each seed is dispersed individually enclosed in its segment. The leaflets of this species have hairs which will slightly cling to clothing or fabric
Height: 24” to 48”
Spacing: 15” to 18”
Light: Full Sun to shade
Habitat - Thickets, dry upland woods, rich woods, ravines, prairies, glades, ridges, moist ground, roadsides, railroads.Woodlands
Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry
USDA Zone: 4a-8b
Wildlife value: See above!
Comments: Panicledleaf Ticktrefoil enriches the soil through nitrogen fixation. Desmodium paniculatum is a pioneer species (first species that grows in an area after a disturbance). So, you're likely to see it in areas that have been cleared by fire, flooding, logging or construction. The roots of Tick Trefoils have been used medicinally in the past by the Houma Indians. It has more
Landscape use: Massed in a native plant garden. Plant with grasses (Panicums, Chasmanthium) for support. It makes a nice ground cover in a wilder area of the garden.



Thoreau wrote in his journals "I can hardly clamber along one of our cliffs in September in search of grapes without getting my clothes covered with Desmodium ticks. Though you were running for your life, they would have time to catch and cling to you -- often the whole row of pods, like a piece of a very narrow saw blade with four or five great teeth. They will even fasten to your hand. They cling by the same instinct as babes to the mother’s breast, craving a virgin soil -- eager to descry new lands and seek their fortune in foreign parts; they steal a passage somewhere aboard of you, knowing that you will not put back into the same port."

 Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing wildflowers all over this great big beautiful world. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants, how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesday of the month! Add your link and comment below!



Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

25 comments:

  1. Ah! This popped up in my DC flower bed this year and I could not figure out what it was, though I suspected it was some kind of native. It attracted all kinds of insects. Thank you for identifying it for me! I will not get rid of it but will likely move it...

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    1. Glad to help id it for you. Loads of insects use it.

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  2. I am not going to say how long I have picked these things off my socks, shoes, pants, shirts, and off my dog, and children. Yet after all of that, I have never seen this plant bloom. I had no idea what it was. It sneaks up on you. ha... I am glad you highlighted this. My education continues.

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    1. Glad to help! Just yesterday, Mr I came in covered with the stick tights.

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  3. I bet they really sparkle when the dew hangs from the stems or the morning sun catches those dainty flowers. I'm going to have to look more carefully on our property to see if I have this growing around here. I seem to think I've spotted them before.

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    1. It's out of bloom now, but, I bet those velcro seeds will find you.

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  4. Nope, nope, nope. This is not a plant I like. I see it everywhere, yet never paid attention other than to enjoy the little blooms as fillers in arrangements. Scooter will come into the house with them all over his fur coat. Thank you Gail for showing me who is causing so many problems in my yard.
    Jeannie @ GetMeToTheCountry.Blogspot.com

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    1. Not to everyone's taste! That's okay and the seeds really are a bother to get off a dog/cat's fur.

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  5. This is one I hadn't heard of. I looked up to see if it is native here, and found a fun sentence on one of the sites: "The leaflets of this species have hairs which will slightly cling to clothing or fabric like weak velcro." LOL, since it doesn't cling like strong velcro, maybe I would like to try it. I have an area under some trees across the street this would work for. I don't recall a plant being host for so many kinds of butterflies! I love that! I just need to know if it stays pulled when you have too many, or if it comes right back up from the roots.

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    1. While pulling the seeds off my husbands shirts I noticed they also stick to skin! Not sure if the roots regenerate, but the seeds love bare ground.

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  6. Yes, I'm familiar with this plant, but I don't have it in my garden. If it grew in the back woods, I would welcome it. Thanks for reminding us of all the wildlife these native wildflowers support. And it's very pretty in its own way.

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    1. It does need a close inspection! I love sharing new info to readers and friends.

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  7. Replies
    1. Dainty, but, tenaciously grabs onto us!

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  8. Hi Gail, What a pretty, little flower. I love that it creates flashes of color in the garden. It's definitely a Massachusetts native and I'm sure I've had the seed heads all over my clothing. It's amazing that it benefits so many different Butterflies!

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    1. I was pretty shocked to discover how many critters utilize this plant and some of my favorite butterfly.

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  9. Oh those seeds! A nice collection of critters it collects too. With the light and airy look it's a good one for the back of a native plant border or the Garden of Benign Neglect. Love that phrase.

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  10. A beautiful plant!
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

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  11. Oh Gail that is such a special plant...love the dainty pink flowers!

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  12. I don't think I've ever seen this, although it's so dainty it's possible I overlooked it. We have birdsfoot trefoil, which is a different genus.

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  13. Ha, my dogs are very familiar with this plant! It doesn't need any encouragement in my neighborhood.

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  14. I've put your link in today's post - but my link above is to my previous post with truly wild flowers on the mountains.

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  15. That is indeed a dainty little plant! I think it’s so subtle how it spreads its seeds “Excuse me, could I just ride along on your socks? Thanks.”

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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