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Slender Bush Clover (Lespedeza virginica)

Life history

Species overview

Slender Bush Clover (Lespedeza virginica), a Wisconsin Threatened plant, is found in dry prairies and open upland woodlands, as well as red cedar glades on quartzite. Blooming occurs early August through late September; fruiting occurs throughout September. The optimal identification period for this species is early August through late September.

Synonyms: Medicago virginica


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Leaflets oblong or linear-oblong, 3 to 7 mm wide and 4 to 6 times as long; peduncles shorter than subtending leaves; keel of flower shorter than the wings.
  • Flower characteristics: Purple flowers, 6 to 8 mm; cleistogamous flowers, lacking petals, chiefly along the middle of the stem in small, subsessile clusters; chasmogamous flowers, showy, in short, few-flowered racemes from the upper axils; peduncles shorter than the leaves, forming a crowded, leafy inflorescence; calyx lobes of the chasmogamous flowers 1.7 to 3 mm, the 2 uppermost fused together to the middle or beyond.
  • Fruit characteristics: Thinly and inconspicuously covered with straight, stiff hairs.
  • Leaf characteristics: Usually erect or strongly ascending, composed of 3 leaflets; leaflets linear to narrowly oblong, 3 to 7 mm wide and 4 to 6 times as long.


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


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Quercus macrocarpa, Q. velutina, Juniperus virginiana, Polytaenia nuttallii, Aristida dichotoma.

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 Slender Bush Clover (Lespedeza virginica). 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 Lespedeza virginica in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2
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 prairies and open upland woodlands, as well as red cedar glades on quartzite.
  • Soils: Dry soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Slender Bush Clover. 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).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Slender Bush Clover. 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
Central Sand Hills 2
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 broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes in open sandy areas dominated by native grasses.
  • 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.

Management guidance

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

  • Maintain open to partially open canopy to encourage this species. Avoid closed canopy conditions.
  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Survey for and control invasive plants prior to conducting timber operations, as these can be spread by vehicles and often respond vigorously to increased light; see forestry BMPs for invasive species.


Slender Bush Clover Photo.

Photo © June Dobberpuhl.

Slender Bush Clover Photo.

Lespedeza virginica

Photo © Suzan Campbell.

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