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Plant of the Week #11- Leadplant

According to the Illinois Wildflower website, Leadplant, Amorpha canescens is considered a sign of a high-quality habitat. It grows abundantly on the remnant prairies of Hixon and the surrounding bluffs, particularly on Zoerb Prairie. Learn more about it here.


The term "Amorpha" means "deformed," indicating that the flower has just one petal and seems to be missing some. Here is a close-up of this peculiar flower:

The one petal almost looks like an umbrella half covering the stamens and the pistil of the flower.


Unlike many plants like buckthorn that we constantly fight against, this particular "woody" plant is desirable on the prairie. It boasts deep roots, minimal fragrance, a brief blooming period in mid-summer, and can live for centuries according to this reference- https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/shrub/lead-plant . Similar to other prairie flora, it flourishes with periodic fires. Early settlers nicknamed it "Devil's Shoestrings" because of its tough roots that made plowing difficult. Some also thought that the plant suggested the presence of lead ore deposits underground where it grew hence its name- https://arboretum.wisc.edu/content/uploads/2015/03/PI_Leadplant.pdf


This year, Friends of the Blufflands did an informal survey looking for a moth called the Leadplant Flower Moth, Schinia lucens. https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=IILEYMP920 The larvae of this moth depend on leadplant as its obligate host and it is not known to be present where leadplant is absent. Since this plant is mostly restricted to the 1% of the prairies that remain, there has been a corresponding decrease in the numbers of the moth. It is listed as special concern in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Unfortunately, we did not find the moth, but we will keep looking on a more casual basis for a few more weeks. We did find several other insects, including 3 different caterpillars using this plant and numerous native bees on the flowers.


One insect that was seen was an interesting treehopper nymph, which, with help, was identified as possibly a Three-spotted Treehopper (Vanduzea triguttata).

Notice the small ants "farming" the treehoppers which, like aphids, produce "honeydew" for the ants which in turn offer the treehoppers protection. Here is a photo to put the size of the treehopper nymphs in perspective against the leaves of leadplant:


Last, who could resist showing the federally endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) that was just seen yesterday, July 7, on leadplant growing on Zoerb Prairie:

We seem to be seeing this rare bumble bee with increasing frequency on the prairies as they have been restored. Here is a reference from the Wisconsin DNR where you can find more information about this bee- https://wiatri.net/inventory/bbb/resources/SpeciesDetail.cfm?ESTID=11020

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