Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Nuttall's Tick-trefoil - Desmodium nuttallii   (Schindler) Schubert
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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Author(Schindler) Schubert
DistributionPresent over the Sandhills region and much of the western parts of the Coastal Plain and eastern half of the Piedmont; widely scattered elsewhere, including the southern half of the mountains. Possibly present in all counties, especially as Desmodium species have been under-collected across the state.

This is a species of the Eastern states, but with a somewhat smaller range than many others. Still, it ranges north to NJ and MO, and south to northern FL and eastern TX.
AbundanceFrequent to common in the Sandhills; less numerous elsewhere, mostly infrequent to fairly common in the rest of the western Coastal Plain and eastern Piedmont; rare to uncommon in most of the rest of the state. Of the wide-ranging Desmodium species in the state, this is one of the lesser known and numerous ones, though in the Sandhills it is a familiar species.
HabitatLike most others in the genus, this is a species of dry to rarely mesic soils, in full to partial sun. This species favors sandy soils, and grows in pine/scrub oak sandhills, sandy openings, wooded borders, and other dry ground.
PhenologyBlooms from July to September, and fruits from August to October.
IdentificationThis is a fairly typical Desmodium, but it is strongly hairy all over, particularly on the stem and leaves, giving it a soft, "velvety" look. It has an erect stem to about 3 feet tall, with a moderate number of branches and with the standard 3-foliate leaves. Each leaflet is narrowly ovate with a slightly rounded tip, and grows to about 3 inches long; the leaflet width is an important character, as in this species the width is only 1/2-2/3 the length of the leaflets. In the similar D. viridiflorum, the leaflet width is closer to 2/3-1 times the length (i.e., the leaflet is much more widely ovate to rounded). The leaflets are very hairy and have strongly hooked hairs, at least below, so that you can pick a leaflet and stick it on your shirt as a "badge"! (Yes, this is natural Velcro, and D. viridiflorum also has "Velcro" leaves.) Both species have long and narrow panicles of flowers from leaf axils, with many rosy-pink flowers about 1/5-inch long. Another key feature to separate these two "Velcro" species is by the pods; in D. nuttallii, the pod has only 2-4 segments, whereas D. viridiflorum has 4-5 segments, and the shape of the pods and segments is also a bit different (see keys). This is a familiar species in the Sandhills and adjacent regions in sandy soil, but in other regions it may take a handful of walks to find it. In general, you need to be somewhat careful separating it from the more widespread and a bit more robust D. viridiflorum.
Taxonomic CommentsNone now, but some older references had included it within D. viridiflorum.

Other Common Name(s)None
State RankS3? [S4]
Global RankG5
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