July — Leadplant

Ah, summer on the prairie. To walk on a high quality prairie in summer is truly a sublime, multi-sensual experience. The birds, the insects, the whole big sky thing, and the flowers — oh man, the flowers. One of the coolest July-blooming plants on the prairie is leadplant (Amorpha canescens), which is one of the few native shrubs found on the prairie.

Leadplant, which only grows to 1 or 2 feet high, is a member of the bean family and thus contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots. The plant and the bacteria have a pretty good relationship. The bacteria provide the nitrogen for the plant and in return receive food that the plant makes during photosynthesis. Like most prairie plants, leadplant develops very deep roots, sometimes growing 15 feet into the soil. The strong roots helped to earn this plant the nickname “prairie shoestring.” As the early European settlers broke the prairie sod, the tough leadplant roots would make the sound of a breaking shoestring as they were cut by the plow.

The plant’s beauty is borne on several spikes that will contain 50 to 100 very small flowers. Each flower contains a single purple petal with reddish stamens that have yellow anthers, which protrude from the end of the petal. Bees and wasps pollinate the flowers. The plant is very nutritious and is eaten by caterpillars, deer, mice and other animals.

Check out the photos on these websites or better yet, turn off your computer and go hiking on a native prairie.