Slender Bush Clover
Lespedeza virginica
Bean family (Fabaceae)

Description: This native perennial plant is sparsely branched and up to 2' tall. The stems have fine white hairs. The alternate compound leaves are trifoliate and have slender primary petioles about –1" long. The leaflets are up to 2" long and 2/3" across. They have smooth margins and are oblong, except for a tiny point at the tip. 


The flowers occur in crowded heads on short peduncles in the upper portions of the stems. The lower flowers are cleistogamous and inconspicuous; they are capable of forming fertile seeds without the pollination of insects. The upper flowers are about " across and have a typical pea-like structure. This consists of a broad upper petal, and two smaller side petals that parallel a jutting lower lip. The petals of these flowers are pink, although the base of the upper petal is rose pink. These flowers remain clustered along the stems amid the leaves. The blooming period is late summer or early fall, and lasts about 3 weeks. There is no floral scent. The root system consists of a deep taproot.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and mesic to dry conditions. This plant grows readily in soil that is loamy, rocky, or sandy. It has excellent drought resistance. It's easy to start plants from seeds or transplants, and foliar disease is rarely troublesome. Soil with below average pH is tolerated, if not actually preferred. Sometimes this plant has trouble competing against taller, more aggressive plants in fertile soil.

Range & Habitat: Slender Bush Clover is occasional in the southwestern half of Illinois, but uncommon or absent elsewhere (see Distribution Map). Habitats include drier areas of black soil and sandy prairies, hill prairies, rocky upland forests and sandy forests, savannas and sandy savannas, scrubby barrens with poor soil, limestone glades, bluffs, and banks along lakes. The woodland areas where this plant occurs are often dominated by oak trees.

Faunal Associations: The flowers are visited by long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, flies, small butterflies, and skippers. These insects seek nectar, although the bees also collect pollen. Among these visitors, bees are probably the most effective pollinators of the flowers. The caterpillars of some species of skippers feed on the foliage, including Thorybes bathyllus (Southern Cloudywing), Thorybes pylades (Northern Cloudywing), and Achalarus lyciades (Hoary Edge). The seeds are eaten by some upland gamebirds, particularly the Bobwhite, and occasionally the Wild Turkey. Mammalian herbivores of all kinds readily feed on Slender Bush Clover, including deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and livestock. An overpopulation of these animals can make the establishment of this plant difficult in some areas.

Photographic Location: The photograph was taken at the webmaster's wildflower garden in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: The flowers of Slender Bush Clover are attractive, but small-sized. This plant has a more delicate appearance than Lespedeza capitata (Round-Headed Bush Clover), with greener leaves and pinker flowers.

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