Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Sprawling Hoary-pea - Tephrosia hispidula   (Michaux) Persoon
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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Author(Michaux) Persoon
DistributionRanges over the southern 40% of the Coastal Plain, but not present in the Sandhills proper. Occurs north at least to Beaufort and Greene counties. BONAP records for the northeastern Piedmont are presumably based on misidentified specimens of T. spicata.

This is a Southern Coastal Plain species, ranging north to southeastern NC, and south to central FL and west to eastern LA. It has a range quite similar to that of T. florida, though that species does range into the Sandhills region of the Carolinas.
AbundanceFairly common in the coastal Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) belt from Croatan National Forest (Craven/Jones/Carteret counties) southwest to Brunswick County; less numerous farther inland, mostly uncommon to infrequent. Overall, this is the least common of the four Tephrosia species in the state, though hardly scarce in well-managed sites by prescribed burning.
HabitatThis species has similar habitats to T. florida in NC -- found mostly in slightly damp soils under Longleaf Pines, in drier parts of pine savannas and wet to mesic pine flatwoods. It is not a species of drier, sandy soil of pine/scrub oak sandhills, where the similar T. spicata is the predominant small Tephrosia species. As it does not apparently appear in the Sandhills, it is not found in sandhill seepages.
See also Habitat Account for Loamy, Fire-maintained Herblands
PhenologyBlooms from May to August, and fruits from July to October.
IdentificationThis is one of three fairly small Tephrosia species, at first glance all quite similar but with a slight bit of inspection are readily identifiable. This species grows erect to leaning, to about 1-1.5 feet tall, with a scattering of leaves along the stem. The stem is pubescent or moderately hairy, but hairs are mostly appressed to the stem and not overly hirsute (as is T. spicata). The leaves, reaching 3-4 inches long, are odd-pinnate, with 9-23 very narrow leaflets (as are others in the genus). The leaflets are about 2/3-inch long but only 1/5-inch wide at best, but they have an acute (pointed) tip. The flowers are in small clusters at the tips of long naked stalks that are longer than the leaves, about 4-5 inches long; they arise from leaf axils. As with the other two smaller Tephrosia species, the flowers (about 1/2-inch long) start out white, but quickly turn pink and then dark red/carmine. The more widespread T. spicata is quite similar, but that species has very hairy stems and leaves, as compared with a rather smooth to pubescent T. hispidula; it also has more flowers per flower cluster, and its leaflets are wider and are generally obtuse (rounded) as compared with narrower leaflets that are pointed in T. hispidula. T. florida can be quickly separated by its strongly flattened flower stalks and very long leaf petioles (over 1 inch long), versus rounded flower stalks and nearly sessile leaves in the other two. All three can be found in the same general area in some to many lower Coastal Plain counties, though T. spicata is found more in the drier or sandier sites, which can often be just a short distance away from the flatwoods and savannas where the other two can be found. It can often be hard to spot these when the flowers are just opened, to catch the bright white color; more often, the flowers will have turned red to dark red -- not a bad trade-off (!), which seem to linger in that color for more hours or days than do the white color.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)None
State RankS3? [S3]
Global RankG4G5
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