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Kevin Doyle

Hoary Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canescens)

Life history

Species overview

Hoary Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canescens), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in dry oak woodlands. Blooming occurs throughout August; fruiting occurs throughout September. The optimal identification period for this species is late August through early September.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Plant erect and much-branching, covered in spreading hairs; flowers pink; fruit straight with segments 7 to 11 mm long; leaves ovate, on moderately long petioles, terminal leaflet 6 to 12 cm long, lower surface covered in hooked hairs; stipules persistent, ovate, 6 to 12 mm long.
  • Flower characteristics: Pink, pea-like flower with two lateral petals, and keel, borne on pedicels 6 to 14 mm long.
  • Fruit characteristics: Pod flat, mostly straight with 4 to 6 triangular segments each 7 to 11 mm long.
  • Leaf characteristics: 3-parted, borne on a petiole nearly as long as the lateral leaflets; the terminal leaflet slightly larger than lateral leaflets, 6 to 12 cm long; lower surface of leaflets covered in tiny hooked hairs; stipules persistent, ovate, 6 to 12 mm long.


  • Blooming phenology: throughout August
  • Fruiting phenology: throughout September
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late August through early September


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Quercus macrocarpa, Q. velutina, Teucrium canadense, Veronicastrum virginicum, Solidago nemoralis, Eupatorium sessilifolium, Aronia melanocarpa, Xanthoxylum americanum.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Hoary Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canescens). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Desmodium canescens in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in dry oak woodlands.
  • Soils: Sandy soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Hoary Tick-trefoil. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Oak Woodland 3
Sand Prairie 1
Oak Opening 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Hoary Tick-trefoil. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Western Coulee and Ridges 3

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.


Hoary Tick-trefoil Photo.

Hoary tick-trefoil has large stipules at the base of each petiole and shaggy hairs along the stem.

Photo © Nate Fayram.

Hoary Tick-trefoil Photo.

Photo by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR.

Hoary Tick-trefoil Photo.

Photo by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR.

Hoary Tick-trefoil Photo.

Photo by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR.

Hoary Tick-trefoil Photo.

Desmodium canescens

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition