Thursday, July 30, 2009


This is the flower head of the Bundleflower, Desmanthus illinoensis, a plant of some controversy in Ohio. The controversy centers around debate as to whether Bundleflower is native to Ohio or an introduced species. The majority of authorities now seem to think this is a native plant. I like this decision since I manage for native plants and like this one in particular.

This is a tall plant that reaches a little of four feet. It can compete with the tall prairie grasses and survive in some extremely dry conditions. The bulk of the growth occurs early in the summer before the grasses get too tall.

Bundleflower has a variety of desirable characters. First has to be the flower cluster that looks like a powder puff or starburst fireworks. The flowers may continue all summer, it not being uncommon to find mature seeds on the same plants as new flowers.

Next would have to be the doubly compound leaves. There are cherished ornamental plants that don’t offer more than the beauty of these leaves.

The detail and arrangement of these tiny leaflets is amazing. How can you not like a plant with leaves as intriguing as these? But there’s still more.

This is the developing seed head. Bundleflower is a legume, like peas or beans, and the seeds develop in pods. Instead of single pods, you have a tight cluster of sickle shaped pods, each holding six or seven seeds. The plants also fix nitrogen in root nodules, making nitrogen available to other plants growing in the vicinity.

No two seed pods take on the same configuration. They may be as varied as fingerprints. When they mature, the pods turn a dark chocolate brown and split along the seam to release the seeds. When the plant has dried, the stalks with attached pod clusters can be an interesting addition to a dried flower arrangement.

The seeds have a high oil content and make a nutritious livestock feed supplement. There have been domesticated varieties of this plant developed for commercial production. Evaluations have been done to assess the plant’s worth for vegetable oil production, livestock feed, and forage. I’m sure plant breeders can turn this into a rugged mega-seed producer, but I’ll always prefer the humble native original.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting and beautiful plant. I love the leaves and the seed head. I'll have to keep my eye out for this gem!