CPC Plant Profile: Brunet's Milkvetch
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Plant Profile

Brunet's Milkvetch (Astragalus alpinus)

Description
  • Global Rank: T3 - Vulnerable
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • State: ME, NB, NF, NH, QC, VT
  • Nature Serve ID: 157852
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 12/07/2021

There are two varieties of Alpine Milkvetch: the common Astragalus alpinus var alpinus, and the much less common Astragalus alpinus var brunetianus. Both are low growing, perennial legumes that grow carpet-like in large colonial patches. They both produces nodding, white or white and purple flowers in the typical pea-flower shape from April to August. The two varieties are distinguished by the dark hairs covering the pods, which are shorter and pressed onto the stem (appressed) on A. alpinus var brunetianus. (Brzeskiewicz 2003). Both varieties of Alpine Milkvetch are of conservation concern. Astragalus alpinus var brunetianus has a small total range size and, despite being common throughout much of its range, A. alpinus var alpinus is considered rare in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States where its populations are isolated from the main range. (Brzeskiewicz 2003). This taxon is included in the MWRTF Action Plan.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 10/09/2020
  • Reintroduction

Several studies have attempted to use A. alpinus as a part of revegetation projects, although only where it is common. One successfully transplanted seedlings onto coal mine spoils (Smyth 1997). Two successfully transplanted seedlings onto disturbed sites in Alaska (Bishop and Chapin 1998; Densmore 1992). Lastly, another unsuccessfully attempted to transplant seedlings onto oil-sand tailings (Li et. al. 1998)

Holly Bernardo
  • 06/20/2017

The main threats to A. alpinus var alpinus the Midwest USA are habitat loss, mechanical damage from recreational actives on the shoreline, competition from non-native species and hydrological changes. (Brzeskiewicz 2003).

Holly Bernardo
  • 06/20/2017

The total number of individuals for either variety A. alpinus in unknown. Again, A. alpinus var alpinus is common throughout much of its range. However, as of 2003, there were only 4 known element occurrences of A. alpinus var alpinus in the disjunct Midwestern region of its range (2 in MN and 2 in WI). The number of individuals in these Midwestern populations has been observed to vary greatly from year to year. As of the same report, there were 37 known element occurrences of A. alpinus var brunetianus in Maine. There were an additional 17-40 element occurrences of A. alpinus var brunetianus in New Brunswick, CAN, 10 on Newfoundland Island, CAN, and it is known to occur, but has not been quantified, in Labrador, CAN. (Brzeskiewicz 2003).

Holly Bernardo
  • 06/20/2017

Several studies have attempted to use A. alpinus as a part of revegetation projects, although only where it is common. One successfully transplanted seedlings onto coal mine spoils (Smyth 1997). Two successfully transplanted seedlings onto disturbed sites in Alaska (Bishop and Chapin 1998; Densmore 1992). Lastly, another unsuccessfully attempted to transplant seedlings onto oil-sand tailings (Li et. al. 1998). This species has also been used in studies of arctic rhizobia (Prevost et. al. 1987) and sub-arctic hemiparasites (Seel and Press 1993).

Holly Bernardo
  • 06/20/2017

All four populations of A. alpinus var alpinus in MN and WI occur in National Forests, and are thus protected to some extent since both states list it as Endgangered. For example, recreation use of the beaches on which these populations occur is limited, such as prohibiting ATV access. All four of these populations are also regularly monitored. (Brzeskiewicz 2003).

Holly Bernardo
  • 06/20/2017

Little is known about A. alpinus' basic biology or ecology for either variety, therefore, many types of research would aid in developing conservation plans. For example, optimal hydrology patterns for shoreline populations, seed germination requirements, monitoring to determine population trends, and determining minimum viable population sizes.

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Nomenclature
Taxon Astragalus alpinus
Authority L.
Family Fabaceae
CPC Number 16009
ITIS 25393
USDA ASAL7
Common Names alpine milkvetch
Associated Scientific Names Astragalus alpinus | Astragalus alpestris | Astragalus andinus | Astragalus astragalinus | Astragalus grossheimianus | Astragalus phacinus | Astragalus salicetorum | Astragalus subpolaris | Atelophragma alpinum | Colutea astragalina | Phaca alpina | Phaca andina | Phaca astragalina | Phaca minima | Tium alpinum | Tragacantha alpina
Distribution Astragalus alpinus var alpinus is commonly found throughout the USA, Canada and Greenland. It becomes rare at its range edges, Utah and New Mexico to the South and Minnesota and Wisconsin to the East. It has state-level Endangered status in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Astragalus alpinus var brunetianus is only found in the Northeastern USA and Eastern Canada. It is listed as a species of Special Concern in Maine, and is extirpated from New Hampshire and Vermont. (Brzeskiewicz 2003).
State Rank
State State Rank
Maine S3
New Brunswick S3
Newfoundland S2S3
New Hampshire SX
Quebec S3?
Vermont SX
Habitat

Range-wide, A. alpinus var alpinus is found on moderately well-drained gravelly or rocky soil, in disturbed, cool sites. Its typical habitats are: rocky barrens, mountain meadows, tundra and river and lakeshores. It is a facultative wetland species in much of its range (USDA and NRCS 2017). In the Midwest (MN & WI), A. alpinus var alpinus is only found on gravelly, disturbed beaches of lakes. (Brzeskiewicz 2003).

Ecological Relationships

A. alpinus, like other legumes, forms a mutualism with bacteria in its roots to fix nitrogen. It is mostly pollinated by bumblebees (Brzeskiewicz 2003) and appears to be an obligate out-crosser (Kudo and Molau 1999). Its seeds are heavy and likely dispersed with the aid of animals or in the water when growing on shorelines (Brzeskiewicz 2003; Danvind and Nilsson 1997).

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Butterflies & Moths
Blues Glaucopsyche lygdamus Floral Visitor Link
Whites Pieris marginalis mcdunnoughii Floral Visitor Link
Blues Plebejus melissa pseudosamuelis Floral Visitor Link
Blues Plebejus saepiolus Floral Visitor Link
Skippers Polites sabuleti Floral Visitor Link

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