South Dakota Native Plant Research
Fabaceae: Amorpha canescens

Fabaceae: Amorpha canescens


Download Seed: The olive brown seed is 2-2.8 mm long. (57 KB)

Download Seedling: Two month old seedling grown in research greenhouse in early spring. (76 KB)

Download Vegatative: The leaflet bladed are ovate-oblong and there are 13-20 pairs per leave. (77 KB)

Download Flowering: The flowers are arranged in a spikelike raceme. (103 KB)

Download Fruiting: Leadplant produces indehiscent 1-seeded in late August. (55 KB)

Download Flower close-up (3.8 MB)

Download developing fruit (2.1 MB)

Family Name


Common Name

Leadplant, shoestrings

Native American Name

Lakota: zitka’tacan’


Amorpha canescens is a small perennial deciduous shrub or subshrub, which grows 30 cm to 1.2 m in height from a deep, rhizomatous root system. Main stems are brown and woody with the few branching stems being green to gray-white. The grey-green leaves are alternate odd-pinnate and appear leaden due to their dense hairiness Leaves contain 29-41 leaflets, are subsessile with the petiole 0.5-1.0 mm long. The rachis is 8-13 cm long, the petiole and rachis densely are pubescent with short whitish to gray woolly hairs. Leaflets are 9-17 mm long and 4-8 mm wide, ovate-oblong to elliptical. The margins are entire. The flowers bloom from May to August and have a 5-lobed fused calyx 1.5-2.0 mm long, with free lobes 1.5-2.0 mm long. Corollas are not papilionaceous, forming a bluish-purple tube that is 4-5 mm long and 2.0-2.5 mm wide. Ten stamens are exserted from the tube, the free portion of the filaments 4-5 mm long with bright yellow anthers. The superior ovary is 1.0-1.5 mm long and densely hairy, with the style 2-3 mm long and having a 3-lobed stigma. The fruits are small (3-4mm) modified 1-seeded legumes. This plant can be found growing in well-drained soils of prairies, bluffs, and open woodlands.

Additional Notes

Amorpha canescens is easily recognized when flowering by its gray hairiness and distinctive inflorescences. Lead plant is an excellent shrub for use in landscaping. I prefer it to Russian sage. It is deep-rooted and very drought tolerant. Starting from seeds requires a couple of years for the roots to grow before the shrub really starts to develop. The flowers are very attractive and attract bees and butterflies. The leaves make a very good tea that is high in antioxidants.

Horticulture Notes

Seed Collection: Collect seed in late August
Germination: Scarify and plant in the spring after pretreatment
Vegetative Propagation: Greenwood cutting in the spring or hardwood cuttings in the fall.
Soils: Medium to dry well-drained soils
Light: Full sun to partial shade
Water: Mesic

Notes: Seeds are dormant due to the impervious seed coat. A small chip in the outside (convex portion) of the seed coat will break dormancy. Be careful not to damage the fleshy cotyledons.

Fabaceae: Amorpha canescens