Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The beautiful dark purple spikes of leadplant should be appearing now on the North Dakota prairies. Leadplant is primarily a plains dweller but also occurs in sandy open woods as far east as Michigan and Indiana.
This plant may reach forty inches in height but usually is about a foot and a half tall in our area. The plant gets its colloquial name from the gray appearance caused by fine hairs which cover the leaves stems and unopened flowers. Flowering spikes are crowded at the top of the stems. Each spike produces nearly a hundred tiny flowers. Leaves are composed of about twenty pairs of oval leaflets. The thick taproot of this perennial plant penetrates deep underground. At maturity the seedpods (legumes) are about three-sixteenths of an inch long.
Leadplant is fairly common on most native prairies in eastern North Dakota. The plant seems to reach best development on east- and southfacing slopes. Leadplant is good livestock forage as indicated by a two to tenfold reduction in coverage of the plant on heavily grazed pastures as compared to those moderately or lightly grazed. When long-idle native prairie dominated by introduced grasses is burned in the spring, leadplant and other native plants usually show a remarkable recovery.
Leadplant is a member of the bean family (Fabaceae) which contains hundreds of economically important plants. Fab means "bean" in Latin. The generic name Amorpha stems from the Greek amorphos, "deformed," in reference to the absence of four of the five petals normally found on flowers of the bean family. Canescens means "becoming gray" in botanical Latin. Leadplant was first described by German botanist Frederick Pursh in 1814.