Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
An unusually-distributed species in North Dakota is showy locoweed. Except for Barnes, Steele, and Griggs Counties, the plant only occurs in the northern third of the state. This phenomenon probably is related to soil temperature, because the plant is absent to the south and near west, but reappears far to the west in the cool foothill grasslands of the Rockies from Alberta to New Mexico.
Showy locoweed grows up to a foot tall from a heavy taproot and woody rootcrown. The splendid appearance of the plant is due to the long clusters of 20 to 80 rose-to-deep purple flowers that contrast nicely with a thick covering of long white hairs on stems, leaves, and among the flowers themselves. An older plant will have up to a dozen clusters of flowers. Later, the pods (legumes) will also be covered with white hairs.
Look for showy locoweed on heavily or moderately grazed native prairie. The plant seems more abundant on high gravelly moraines. Cattle seem to avoid the plant, even though it is not listed among the locoweeds known to poison livestock.
The locoweeds are members of the bean family (Fabaceae), which contains about 10,000 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees, many of which are of great economic importance. Fab means "bean" in Latin. The generic name was compounded from the Greek oxys, "sharp," and tropis, "keel," in reference to the pointed tip on the two lower flower petals. Showy locoweed was first collected for science by the eminent Scottish botanist David Douglas (1798-1834) who made extensive collections in the Pacific Northwest.