Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Slender Lespedeza - Lespedeza virginica   (L.) Britton
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Members of Lespedeza with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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Author(L.) Britton
DistributionStatewide, and likely occurs in all counties, though scarce in the northwestern corner.

This is another of the widespread Eastern lespedezas, found in most counties within its range. It ranges from NH and southeastern MN south to northern FL and central TX.
AbundanceCommon to very common in the Piedmont and most of the Coastal Plain. Fairly common to frequent in the Mountains, more common in the southwestern counties. Toward the coast, it is infrequent in the far northeastern counties.
HabitatThis is a lespedeza of similar habitats to most others -- favoring dry soil of woodland borders, open woods, powerline clearings, and other brushy places.
PhenologyBlooms from July to September, and fruits from August to November.
IdentificationThis is a rather slender member of the genus, averaging slightly shorter than most, reaching normally about 2 feet tall. The stem has some appressed hairs, and the plant is either unbranched or has a handful of ascending branches in the upper part of the stem. As with most Lespedeza species, it is best identified by the leaflet shape. The 3 leaflets are quite narrow, being narrowly elliptic to linear and about 3/4-inch long but only 0.2-inch wide, with a somewhat pointed (acute) to narrowly rounded tip. The petioles are short, such that the leaves (the 3 leaflets) appear sessile. The flowers grow on small and short racemes in upper leaf axils and at the ends of branches, such that they do not normally protrude beyond the leaflets. The effect is narrow clusters of small purple flowers several inches long. The abundant exotic L. cuneata, often planted along roadsides and roadbanks to prevent erosion, looks quite similar and can have the same flower clusters and can grow in the same habitats; however, the exotic has truncated leaflet tips, that are clearly "squared-off", as opposed to tapering tips in the native species. Many biologists are so used to seeing L. cuneata everywhere that they can and will overlook the "real deal" L. virginica as the exotic one. Also note that several Desmodium have linear leaves; D. sessilifolium is essentially historical in the state, and the Coastal Plain D. strictum and D. tenuifolium have longer and even narrower leaflets that are usually brighter or darker green, thicker, and not creased like so many Lespedeza species are. Over most of the state, L. virginica will be the most often encountered native species in the genus, and so unless people overlook it as L. cuneata, it should become overly familiar quite quickly.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Virginia Lespedeza, Slender Bush-clover
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
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B.A. SorrieWhispering Pines, weed in yard, Sept 2008. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieSandhills Game Land, roadside longleaf near Broadacres Lake, Aug 2019.

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