CPC Plant Profile: Prairie Bushclover
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Plant Profile

Prairie Bushclover (Lespedeza leptostachya)

This shot is a view of one of the sites in Illinois where this species occurs. Notice the small grassy knobs in the foreground, where this species is typically found. Photo Credit: Susanne Masi
Description
  • Global Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
  • Legal Status: Federally Threatened
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • State: IA, IL, MN, WI
  • Nature Serve ID: 141618
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 04/04/1991

Prairie bush clover is a member of the legume family, endemic to Midwestern tallgrass prairies. Currently listed as a federally threatened species, it is known from 36 sites across four states. This particular clover produces a single stem that appears somewhat silvery, as they are densely covered with fine hairs. When plants reach maturity during summer months, typically after 6-9 years, they produce pale pink flowers on open. Flowers can remain both closed (cleistogamous) or open to admit pollinators (chasmogamous). Both types of flowers are capable of producing seeds without the aid of insect pollen transfer. Its flowering head is composed many very tightly bunched flowers and larger, wider leaves.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 09/18/2020
  • Reproductive Research

A joint research effort between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago Botanic Garden and The Nature Conservancy of Illinois is attempting to quantify the effects of light periodic grazing on the long-term survival and reproductive recruitment of this species. It is thought that, because this species evolved in the presence of grazing by bison, slight grazing may be necessary to maintain healthy, viable populations.

  • 09/18/2020
  • Orthodox Seed Banking

Chicago Botanic Garden has seeds of this plant in storage.

  • 09/18/2020
  • Seed Collection

Chicago Botanic Garden has seeds of this plant in storage.

  • 09/18/2020
  • Genetic Research

Genetic analysis (using allozymes) of populations in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin revealed that there is little genetic difference between and among populations (Cole and Biesboer 1992).

  • 09/18/2020
  • Genetic Research

Currently at Chicago Botanic Garden, genetic analysis using ISSRs (intersimple sequence repeats) is being performed to determine the genetic diversity of the population at Nachusa.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Endemic to the tallgrass prairie region of the upper Mississippi Valley and rare throughout its 4-state range. There are about 32 extant populations, and many of these are small (<150 stems). Populations are restricted to remnants of the prairie that have persisted amid widespread conversion to cropland. Some of the limited amount of remaining habitat is threatened by agricultural expansion, herbicides, urbanization, and the lack of natural disturbances, especially fire.

Andrea Tietmeyer
  • 01/01/2010

Herbivory by both small mammals and insects negatively affects seed reproduction (Bowles and Bell 1999). Agricultural activities, residential development, quarry mining, and vegetation management of right-of-ways are also threats. An apparent lack of

Andrea Tietmeyer
  • 01/01/2010

Presently known from 36 sites in 24 counties in 4 states-- northern IL, southern and western WI, and southern MN and IA. (Smith et al. 1988) The thirteen populations in IL contain only 249 plants.

Andrea Tietmeyer
  • 01/01/2010

Genetic analysis (using allozymes) of populations in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin revealed that there is little genetic difference between and among populations (Cole and Biesboer 1992). Currently at Chicago Botanic Garden, genetic analysis using ISSRs (intersimple sequence repeats) is being performed to determine the genetic diversity of the population at Nachusa. Chicago Botanic Garden has seeds of this plant in storage. A joint research effort between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago Botanic Garden and The Nature Conservancy of Illinois is attempting to quantify the effects of light periodic grazing on the long-term survival and reproductive recruitment of this species. It is thought that, because this species evolved in the presence of grazing by bison, slight grazing may be necessary to maintain healthy, viable populations.

Andrea Tietmeyer
  • 01/01/2010

Light to moderate periodic grazing is believed to favor Lespedeza leptostachya by decreasing the competitive ability of neighboring plants. Prescribed fire without periodic grazing is believed to increase plant competition, an outcome that can be detrimental to Lespedeza leptostachya.

Andrea Tietmeyer
  • 01/01/2010

Further research assessing the response of Lespedeza leptostachya to a combination management scheme of fire with light periodic grazing is needed. Understanding the population dynamics that affect seed production and seedling recruitment would be useful for managing populations. Determine whether or not hybrids are forming between Lespedeza capitata and L. leptostachya.

Andrea Tietmeyer
  • 01/01/2010

Continued research investigating the genetic diversity of existing populations is needed. Protocols for seed germination and growth need to be established.

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Photos
Nomenclature
Taxon Lespedeza leptostachya
Authority Engelm.
Family Fabaceae
CPC Number 2489
ITIS 25904
USDA LELE5
Common Names Prairie Bush-clover | Prairie Lespedeza
Associated Scientific Names Lespedeza leptostachya
Distribution This species is endemic to Midwestern prairies of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Roughly 90% of all known plants occur within a "core area" of northern Iowa and adjacent southwestern Minnesota.
State Rank
State State Rank
Iowa S3
Illinois S1
Minnesota S2
Wisconsin S2
Habitat

Lespedeza leptostachya is often found on the north-facing slopes of dry upland prairies. On these north-facing slopes, it occurs either in thin soil at the margins of rocks or in gravelly loamy soil. (Bowles and Bell 1999, Cole & Biesboer 1992).

Ecological Relationships

It is thought that, historically, the disturbance caused by American bison allowed L. leptostachya to survive amongst the dense vegetation that makes up its grassland habitat. Also, this species can often be found with its relative, the round-headed bush clover (Lespedeza capitata). This clover is much more common, and can be distinguished from prairie bush clover because it appears to be generally larger and more robust than its rare relative. There has been some documentation of hybridization between these two species, but it is considered to be rare (Cole and Biesboer 1992). Common associate species include little bluestem, side-oats gamma, prairie dropseed, porcupine grass, lead plant, rough blazing star, purple prairie clover, showy goldenrod, blue eyed grass, cream wild indigo and bird's foot violet (Bittner and Kleiman 1998).

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID

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