Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A population of Pursh's lotus probably can be found in every county of North Dakota. The species originally ranged from Manitoba to British Columbia, south to New Mexico and California, but has since spread along roads and railroad grades into several eastern states. Lotus plants are also called "deervetch", "birdsfoot-trefoil", and "bastard indigo" by various authorities.
Pursh's lotus is a slender annual with a weak root system. Plants are usually 6-20 inches tall, and are branched along the upper third of the stem. Placed regularly along the stem are small leaves consisting of three leaflets. The yellowish-white flowers are only about 1/8 inch long, but mature into dark pods (legumes) that may be over an inch long.
The abundance of the plant seems little affected by grazing. In closely cropped pastures, the plants grow short and stocky; in tall grass the plants grow tall and slender. A perennial European lotus is grown like alfalfa for livestock forage.
Pursh's lotus is a member of the economically important bean family (Fabaceae), which is estimated to comprise about 10,000 species worldwide. Fab means "bean" in Latin. The name "lotus" is from the ancient Greek lotos, a name they applied to several kinds of plants. Pursh's lotus was first described by British botanist George Bentham (1800-1884), the specific epithet honoring the eminent German botanist Frederick Pursh (1774-1829).