Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Also called "plume dalea," "nineanther prairie clover," and "arrow-weed," this plant reaches the northern limit of its range in the North Dakota counties of Morton, Grant, and Sioux. Elsewhere, the plant can be found from northwestern Missouri southwestward to New Mexico and Texas at elevations below 4,000 feet.
Nineanther dalea is perennial from a thick, orangish woody base and taproot. One to three thin, smooth stems about thirty inches long form on North Dakota specimens, but plants from more southernly populations are much taller. Stems are densely branched on the upper half. Leaves are only about one inch long and bear three to six pairs of tiny, narrow leaflets that are heavily dotted with dark resin glands. One to three dozen white flowers, each about a quarter inch long, form two rows in narrow spikes about two to three inches long. Long hairs on the flower bases form silky plumes. The tiny pods (legumes) contain about a dozen smooth, yellow seeds.
Look for nineanther dalea from mid June through September on dry prairie hillsides, especially in calcareous soils. The few records available to me indicate that more plants will be found where grazing is moderate, rather than heavy. The Kiowa used the tough, slender stems, tipped with cactus thorns, to make small game arrows. Other Daleas in the western United States were used to dye skins and for teas taken for coughs and colds.
Daleas are members of the economically important bean family (Fabaceae). Fab means "bean" in Latin. The genus was named in honor of the distinguished English botanist Samuel Dale (1659-1739). There are about 200 species in the genus, mostly found in Mexico and the southwestern United States. The specific name enneandra means "having nine stamens" in botanical Latin.
Nineanther dalea was first described for science in 1813 by the eminent English botanist-naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). He visited the Mandan villages along the Missouri River in what now is North Dakota in 1810-1811.