Open main menu

Amorpha canescens, known as leadplant, downy indigo bush, prairie shoestring, or buffalo bellows, is a small, perennial semi-shrub in the pea family (Fabaceae), native to North America.[1][2] It has very small purple flowers with yellow stamens[3] which are grouped in racemes.[4] Depending on location, the flowers bloom from late June through mid-September.[5][3] The compound leaves of this plant appear leaden[4] (the reason for the common name "leadplant"[3]) due to their dense hairiness. The roots can grow up to 5 m (16 ft) deep and can spread up to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) radially.[2] This plant can be found growing in well-drained soils of prairies, bluffs, and open woodlands.[4]

Amorpha Canescens.jpg
Scientific classification
A. canescens
Binomial name
Amorpha canescens
  • Amorpha brachycarpa E.J.Palmer
  • Amorpha canescens Pursh f. canescens
  • Amorpha canescens Pursh f. glabrata (A.Gray) Fassett
  • Amorpha canescens Pursh var. glabrata A.Gray


Typically between 0.3–1 m (1 ft 0 in–3 ft 3 in) tall, leadplant can be identified by its small purple flowers grouped in long spikes and its grey-green leaflets that are alternate and pinnately compound.[6] The plant produces fruits in the form of hairy legumes each with one seed inside. The flower and leafing pattern is similar to Amorpha fruticosa, however, A. canescens typically only grows to be 1 meter (3 ft 3 in) high and prefers drier habitats whereas A. fruticosa can grow to be 5 or 6 meters (16 or 20 ft) high and lives in wetter areas.


Leadplant is used for a variety of different purposes. indigenous peoples such as the Oglala use the plant for medicinal purposes.[7][1] Some indigenous tribes believed that the plant could aide in treating pinworms, eczema, rheumatism, neuralgia, open wounds, and cuts. The leaves of the plant were also used to make a tea and as a smoking mixture when dried, crushed and combined with buffalo fat.[7][8] It is also provides many benefits to the ecosystems it is a part of, for example it provides valuable nutrition for grazing animals and helps prevent soil erosion.[9][2] Leadplant may also be used in landscaping and gardening purposes due to its nitrogen fixing qualities and ability to help prevent erosion.[10] Its nodulated roots are filled with nitrogen fixing bacteria which is needed for plants to grow.[10]


Amorpha canescens was described by Frederick Pursh in 1814. It falls under subfamily Papilionoideae of the family Fabaceae.[5] The specific epithet "canescens" is a botanical Latin term meaning "becoming grey".[11] There have been further delineation beyond species of Amorpha canescens into distinct variants (such as the A. canescens var. glabrata) based on the amount of hairs and color of the leaves, however this further distinction is not typically accepted due to the wide variation in pubescence of the plant.[5]

Where to find itEdit

Amorpha canescens can be found in many locations throughout North America, ranging from southern parts of Canada to the northern edge of Mexico and spanning east from Montana to Michigan.[1] Leadplant is typically found in dry prairie and savanna communities[12][2] Leadplant prefers drier, well-drained soil of many different textures including sandy, gravely, and rocky soils.[10] Finding leadplant indicates minimal live-stock grazing and well-kept land that is not overgrown or that has experienced regular fire.[1][13]


  1. ^ a b c d Casey, P. A. 2011. Plant Fact Sheet for leadplant (Amorpha canescens). USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Manhattan Plant Materials Center. Manhattan, Kansas.
  2. ^ a b c d Slagle, Malinda W.; Hendrix, Stephen D. (2009-10-01). "Reproduction of Amorpha canescens (Fabaceae) and diversity of its bee community in a fragmented landscape". Oecologia. 161 (4): 813–823. doi:10.1007/s00442-009-1429-3. ISSN 0029-8549. PMID 19707794.
  3. ^ a b c Gardner, Harold W. (2011). Tallgrass prairie restoration in the Midwestern and Eastern United States : A hands-on guide. New York: Springer. pp. 154–155. ISBN 978-1-4419-7426-6.
  4. ^ a b c "Amorpha canescens". Native Plant Database. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
  5. ^ a b c Penskar, M.R. 2008. Special Plant Abstract for leadplant (Amorpha canescens). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 4 pp.
  6. ^ Lis, Anna; Adamczewska, Anna; Banaszczak, Piotr (2014-01-01). "Chemical Composition of the Essential Oil of Amorpha canescens Pursh". Journal of Oleo Science. 63 (12): 1269–1274. doi:10.5650/jos.ess14152.
  7. ^ a b Species account from Native American Ethnobotany (University of Michigan - Dearborn) Retrieved 2010-03-26
  8. ^ Gilmore MR (1919) Uses of plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region. Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 33, 1-126.
  9. ^ Hickman, Karen R.; Hartnett, David C. (2002-03-01). "Effects of grazing intensity on growth, reproduction, and abundance of three palatable forbs in Kansas tallgrass prairie". Plant Ecology. 159 (1): 23–33. doi:10.1023/A:1015534721939. ISSN 1385-0237.
  10. ^ a b c "Amorpha canescens" at the Encyclopedia of Life
  11. ^ NPWRC :: Leadplants (Amorpha canescens) Archived July 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2010-03-26.
  12. ^ "DNR - Lead Plant or Prairie Shoestring (Amorpha canescens)". Retrieved 2017-04-19.
  13. ^ Gibson, David J. (1988-01-01). "Regeneration and Fluctuation of Tallgrass Prairie Vegetation in Response to Burning Frequency". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 115 (1): 1–12. doi:10.2307/2996561. JSTOR 2996561.

External linksEdit