sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)
silky bush clover
Lespedeza juncea (L. f.) Pers. var. sericea Maxim.
Lespedeza sericea Miq., nom. illeg.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of sericea
lespedeza is Lespedeza cuneata (Dum. Cours.) G. Don.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This introduced perennial plant is 2-4' tall. It branches frequently
into multiple major stems at the base, which divide into much smaller side
stems. A plant two or three years old may have 20-30 stems. These stems
are held stiff and straight at about a 45° angle from the ground or from
each other. The entire plant has a shrub-like appearance that is vase-shaped
at the base. It is herbaceous, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary,
as all the stems die down to the ground each winter. Each stem is light
green, round but strongly ridged, and covered with lines of appressed or
slightly spreading white hairs. The lower stems become brown and woody
with maturity, and they lose most of their hairs.
Leaves: The alternate compound leaves are trifoliate with short petioles.
The leaflets are up to ¾" long and ¼" across. They are oblong or oblance-
olate, and have smooth margins. The upper surface of each leaflet is dull
green and hairless, while the lower surface is covered with silky appressed
hairs. The blade of each leaflet often angles upward along the central vein,
and it often has a fine point at its tip. From a distance, the narrow leaflets
resemble needles on the stems of an evergreen species.
Flowers: From 1-4 flowers develop from the axils of the compound
leaves on short stalks. Each flower is about 1/3" long, and has a typical
pea-like structure consisting of a broad standard and narrow keel. The
petals are white or cream, usually with a patch of purple at the base of the standard. The pubescent calyx has 5 long teeth that often turn purplish
green. There is no noticeable floral scent.
Fruit/Seeds: Each flower can produce a short pubescent seedpod contain-
ing a single seed.
Roots: The root system consists of a stout taproot. Roots are widely branch-
ed and penetrate the soil more than three feet. This plant spreads by reseed-
ing itself and can form large colonies.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Sericea lespedeza propogates itself by
HABITAT TYPES: Sericea lespedeza was introduced into the United
States from east Asia. Habitats include fields, where it is occasionally
planted as a source of forage and hay, and roadside banks, where it has
been planted for erosion control. Other habitats include openings in upland woodlands, thickets, and prairie restorations. This species can invade many
natural habitats and form dense colonies of plants. It is sometimes intro-
duced into prairie restorations accidentally, probably as a contaminant of
seed, and should be removed. The invasive potential of this species is quite
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Sericea lespedeza is usually found in full
sunlight at sites that are mesic to dry. It grows best on deep, well-drained,
medium to coarse textured soils; it grows quite well in a slightly heavy clay-
loam soil, and is not bothered much by foliar disease. Mature plants are
quite drought tolerant. It is best suited to areas receiving at least 30 inches
of rainfall annually. It can survive short periods of subzero temperatures
when fully established, but prolonged freezing will contribute to winter kill.
Chinese lespedeza is tolerant of low pH (4.5) and infertile soils. Optimum
pH range is 6.0-6.5. On some sites it has been very competitive and hinder-
ed the re-colonization of native species.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period usually occurs
during early fall and lasts about a month.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Sericea lespedeza is a species primarily
occurring in the eastern United States, starting in Florida and extending
north to the upper mid-Atlantic states, but not into New England. It ex-
tends west to Texas and north to the mid-Prairie states, but not the
northern Prairie states or Canadian provinces (it has been reported only
in the Canadian province of Ontario). It does not naturally occur in the
Rocky Mountain states, southwestern, far western or northwestern states.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The flowers attract bumblebees and other
long-tongued bees. The dagger bee, Calliopsis andreniformis, is a common
visitor of the flowers of Lespedeza spp. The caterpillars of the skippers
Thorybes pylades (northern cloudywing) and Thorybes bathyllus (south-
ern cloudywing) feed on foliage of Lespedeza spp., as do the caterpillars
of the moths Automeris io (Io moth) and Utetheisa bella (bella moth). The
seeds are eaten by some upland gamebirds, including the bobwhite quail
and wild turkey, while the palatable foliage is eaten by white-tailed deer
Chinese lespedeza is used for hay, pasture, erosion control, cover crops,
and wildlife food and cover.
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