Did you know that some of our native plants fix nitrogen in nodules on their roots only to release it once the plant has gone dormant? They are all legumes in the pea family. We find these plants to be doubly important in native landscapes and natural areas as they feed both pollinators and other plants. Each adds a unique and fascinating texture to your garden.
Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens)
Lead Plant is a classic prairie shrub reaching about three feet high and featuring dramatic spikes of purple flowers with bright orange anthers from June through August. Its silvery gray green foliage clumps into a small shrub. It prefers dry to average soils in full sun and its long tap root makes it resistant to fire. Many species of moths use it as larval food. However, it is beloved by herbivores and establishes slowly.
False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)
Reaching upwards of 15 feet in ideal conditions, False Indigo features similar purple flower spikes as its cousin the Lead Plant. False Indigo is typically found in moist to average conditions in full sun to part shade. Many bee species pollinate this plant and several of the small butterflies consider it larval food.
Wild White Indigo (Baptisia alba)
Wild White Indigo is a classic prairie perennial reaching about four feet in height that thrives in dry to average soils. Loose greyish to bluish green foliage is topped by tall white flower spikes beginning in June and lasting up to a month. With a long taproot and great longevity in the landscape, plant this and other indigos where they can remain for decades. Some skippers and butterflies use this as a host plant.
Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata)
Cream Wild Indigo is shorter than other indigos at around two feet and prefers full sun situations with dry to average soils. Rich creamy yellow flowers begin in May blooming laterally along grey green stems, giving it a very horizontal look. Ornamental blue black seed pods follow. Slow to establish, moths, skippers, and butterflies consider this a host plant.
White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)
A lovely prairie wildflower, White Prairie Clover reaches about two feet high and thrives in average to dry soils in full sun to part shade situations. The narrow white cone-like flowers bloom all summer, attracting many pollinators, and it is the larval host for the Dogface Sulphur and Reakirt’s Blue butterflies. It is readily consumed by herbivores, especially rabbits.
Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
A charming prairie perennial for home gardens and restoration projects, Purple Prairie Clover features small, cone-shaped pretty purple blossoms with bright orange anthers that resemble a ballerina’s tutu beginning in June. The delicate foliage gives a lacy texture, belying its deep tap root and hardy nature. Beloved of pollinators, it is particularly favored by bees and is the larval host for the Dogface Sulphur and Reakirt’s Blue butterflies. It is readily consumed by herbivores, especially rabbits.
Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata)
A robust and beneficial plant, Round-headed Bush Clover, reaches about two to four feet high and a pollinator magnet. Not particularly show during the season, its seedheads punctuate the winter landscape and are excellent in dried arrangements. Round-headed Bush Clover thrives in full sun to part shade in average to dry soils. A larval host to several skipper butterflies.
Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa)
Wild Senna, at about five feet high, is a dramatic tall plant for the garden or restoration. Huge clusters of bright yellow pea-like flowers begin blooming in July and become long brown seedpods favored by game birds. It thrives in full sun to part shade situations in moist to average soils. Bees adore the flowers and several butterflies and moths utilize it as a larval host.
Goat’s Rue (Tephrosia virginiana)
This unique prairie plant reaches about two feet high and features silvery foliage covered in silky hairs. Bicolor pink and white flowers bloom June through July, attracting a host of pollinators before becoming long seed pods. Southern Cloudywing skipper and Three-lined Angle moth use it as larval food, while wild turkeys consume the seeds. Goat’s Rue does best in full sun to part shade in dry, well-draining soils.