The topic of my previous post, (Jagged Ambush Bug 07-10-21), was photographed on a purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) in our yard near Lookout CA (Modoc County). I never did a post on this perennial so. . .
Purple prairie clover is native to the grassland and prairie ecosystems of Central North America. Since it is virtually impervious to heat and drought and once established requires no care, over 40 years ago Leonard tried planting it in our high desert location. The purple prairie clover in our yard has thrived while being completely ignored.
Several woody, branched stems arise from a large, deep taproot. The leaves, which crowd the stem, are divided into 3 to 7 narrow leaflets. The purple prairie clover inflorescence is a terminal, cone-like head of many flowers. The flower buds are covered by silvery hairs and open from the bottom up in a circle around the flower head. The individual purple flowers have one true petal and 4 other petal-like structures that are actually modified stamens. The anthers on the 5 true stamens are covered with orange pollen. One or two seeds are contained in each mature legume pod.
Purple prairie clover cannot tolerate shade. It is adapted to periodic wildfires that clear encroaching vegetation.
Bees, butterflies and other insects as well as hummingbirds are attracted to purple prairie clover pollen and nectar. Songbirds eat the seeds. Pronghorn graze on the plant as will livestock. As a member of the Legume Family (Fabaceae) purple prairie clover also fixes nitrogen in the soil.
Human uses for this versatile plant include land reclamation and erosion prevention. The stems of purple prairie clover made good brooms. In addition to being edible, the leaves also were made into a tea. Purple prairie clover contains pawhuskins, antagonists of opioid receptors.
A synonym for D purpurea is Petalostemon purpureum. The genus name honors Samuel Dale (1659-1739), an English physician, botanist and botanical collector. The specific epithet means purple.