Family: Fabaceae (Legume family)
Height: 60-150 cm (2-5 ft)
Round Headed Bush-Clover
Lespedeza capitata Michx.
Stems: can be erect or ascending and covered in small hairs.
Flowers: They are in dense clusters near the top of the stem. Its small flowers are white with a blush of pink or purple on its banner near its throat. They sit tucked comfortably into their calyx.
Leaves: alternately arranged trifoliate leaves with short petioles (2-5 mm) or sessile (attached directly) on the stem. The leaves are either covered with hair on both sides or just on the bottom.
Fruits: single seeded fruit that is shorter than the long, brown calyx which makes for a gorgeous winter landscape.
Comments: round headed bush-clover is a gorgeous plant that, as with others in the legume family, work as nitrogen fixers. Round headed bush-clover can be mistaken for hairy bush-clover (Lespedeza hirta); however, the latter has leaflets that are less than twice as long as wide giving them an obovate shape whereupon the round headed bush-clover has leaflets over 2 times as long as wide. There is an invasive sister species, Lespedeza cuneata, who came over from China and is bullying its way into our landscapes. Because there are no natural predators in North America, it has exploited the landscape. Unlike the native bush-clovers, the Chinese bush-clover has fewer flowers in a head and with leaflets under 4 mm wide. Round headed bush-clover has leaflets usually over 5 mm in width.
Etymology: The genus was named after a Spanish governing official of Eastern Florida who was not a botanist. The late 18th century politico was Vincente Manuel de Céspedes. In some manner, the genus was mistakenly spelled with an L instead of a C and the L stuck like pollen on the corbicula of a Bombus. In less exciting names, capitata just means "head" for all the flowers in a big headed cluster.
Pollinators and hosts: Lespedeza are a caterpillar host plant to the Hoary edge butterfly (Achalarus lyciades), Eastern tailed-blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas), Southern cloudywing (Thorybes bathyllus) and Northern cloudywing (Thorybes pylades), black spotted prominent moth (Dasylophia anguina).
Landscape: Round headed bush-clover is an attractive plant that can tolerate dry landscapes. Birds enjoy the seeds. It usually does not exceed 3-4 feet in height.
SOURCES & FURTHER RESOURCES:
Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. pp. 216-217.