Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Trailing Fuzzy-bean - Strophostyles helvola   (L.) Elliott
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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Author(L.) Elliott
DistributionBest known as a coastal species, with a scattered range farther west across the interior Coastal Plain and Piedmont; only one known county in the mountains (Swain).

This is a very widespread species of the central and eastern US and southeastern Canada. It ranges south to northern FL and west to central TX. It is oddly scarce in much of the eastern states, especially in the Appalachians, as compared with the Great Plains states.
AbundanceCommon along the coast and in various dry coastal habitats. Farther inland mostly rare to uncommon, being most numerous (infrequent to locally fairly common) in the west-central Piedmont, for some unknown reason. Very rare to absent in the mountains.
HabitatThe favored habitats of the species are coastal sandy openings, especially on upper beaches and in dunes. Farther from the ocean, it grows in dry or sandy openings, woodland borders, and various other disturbed areas. However, considering these common habitats, it is surprisingly scarce inward from coastal regions.
PhenologyBlooms from June to September, and fruits from August to October.
IdentificationThis species and S. umbellata are quite similar, both being scattered across the state and both generally similar in appearance. Each is a slender trailing or weakly twining vine, reaching to 3-5' long. Each has trifoliate leaves; in this species the 3 leaflets are ovate and about 1.5-2" long and nearly as wide, but in this species there are usually two rounded side lobes, often only weakly developed. S. umbellata has unlobed leaflets. Each has scattered clusters of just a few flowers in each, on very long and often erect stalks that reach 6-10" long, well beyond the leaves. The flower is usually bright rose to purple-rose, but can be pink to even whitish, about 1/2" across, with the standard upright and quite rounded, the give each flower a circular shape. There are some characters in the bracts (bracteoles) of each species, but the main differences between the two are the leaflet shape -- mainly tri-lobed in S. helvola, which makes the leaflets wider, especially the terminal leaflet (which is more than 1" wide), versus an unlobed set of leaflets and a narrower terminal leaflet (mostly 3/4" wide) in S. umbellata. For those who may be interested, S. helvola is an annual and S. umbellata is a perennial species. You won't have much trouble finding S. helvola along the coast, but finding it inland may be difficult, with much more likely chance of seeing it in the western Piedmont. Note that there are quite a few trailing legumes with 3 leaflets; the two Strophostyles leaflets tend to be larger than many (like Galactia) or a shinier and darker green (looking almost evergreen) than most others. Some observers may have to see flowers or fruit to be sure they are looking at a member of this genus.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Annual Sand-bean, Amberique Bean, Beach Pea, Trailing Wild-bean. The two members of the genus have long had numerous common names, none firmly dominant over others. Many use "xxxxx Wild-bean", but that is rather generic, as many other species in this huge family are called some type of Wild-bean.
State RankS4
Global RankG5
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