Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Narrowleaf Lespedeza - Lespedeza angustifolia   (Pursh) Elliott
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Author(Pursh) Elliott
DistributionNearly throughout the Coastal Plain, but of spotty occurrence in the northern third of the province. Ranges into the eastern edge of the Piedmont, with a disjunct record from the southern Mountains (Henderson County).

This is a Coastal Plain species, but it ranges far to the north close to the coast, reaching MA and southeastern NY. It occurs south to central FL and west to MS. There are a few disjunct records into central TN.
AbundanceFairly common to frequent in the southern half of the Coastal Plain, from the Sandhills region east to Beaufort and Carteret counties. Uncommon and local in the northern half of the Coastal Plain. Very rare in the eastern edge of the Piedmont (Chatham, Montgomery, Moore counties), and perhaps casual (and historical?) in the southern Mountains.
HabitatThis is a legume of semi-wetland habitats, mostly in fairly high quality sites. It favors drier savannas, pine flatwoods including Mesic Pine Flatwoods, and sandhills-pocosin ecotones such as in the Sandhills region. It occurs in a few mountain bogs in its inland range. Prescribed fires are helpful in maintaining populations of this Lespedeza species.
PhenologyBlooms fairly late for a lespedeza, from August to October, and fruits from September to November.
IdentificationThis is a wand-like species, growing to 2-3 feet tall, erect, but with few if any branches. The stem is quite densely hairy. The leaves consist of 3 leaflets, on a very short petiole (only 1/4-inch long or less). Each leaflet is linear to narrowly oblong, about 1.2 inches long but only 1/8-inch wide; the surfaces are quite velvety with dense appressed hairs, giving the upper surface a silvery or glaucous color (more pale green or blue green than on similar Desmodium species). Leaflets also tend to be somewhat folded length-wise as opposed to flat leaflets on D. strictum and D. tenuifolium. Lespedeza species also have a small stipule at the base of each leaf. Of course, the inflorescences of these two genera are very different. In this species, there are a few dense "ball-like" racemes of flowers at or near the top of the stem. Petals are yellowish-white with a purple spot on the standard; each flower is only 1/5-inch across, but it is the "head" of flowers that is noticeable to an observer, not an individual flower. As mentioned above, it can look quite similar to two Desmodiums of the Coastal Plain, but the Desmodium species tend to have greener leaves that are not silvery (very densely hairy) or creased down the middle. In bloom or in fruit, the dense balls of flowers or fruit are distinctive in the lespedeza; all Lespedeza species have pods of single segments, not multiple as in Desmodium. You should not have trouble finding this species if you work well-managed natural areas in the southern half of the Coastal Plain, especially in areas dominated by Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris).
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)None, other than variants of the name, such as Narrow-leaved. Note that Lespedezas also go by the common name of xxxx Bush-clover. However, as nearly all of the native species in the genus are herbaceous and not woody, it is best not to use Bush-clover (a name that should be limited to shrubby/woody species).
State RankS4? [S4]
Global RankG5
State StatusW6
US Status
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