Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Goat's-rue - Tephrosia virginiana   (L.) Persoon
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Author(L.) Persoon
DistributionA remarkably "odd" range in the state, shared perhaps by no other species. Though one would think it occurs statewide, as is stated in RAB (1968) and probably many other references, it most certainly does not! It occurs throughout the mountains, Piedmont, and nearly all of the Coastal Plain, but it is clearly absent from areas within about 30 miles of the coast, as there are no collection or observation records for any of the thoroughly worked counties bordering the ocean. Again, to emphasize, the range in NC is not statewide!

This is a very widespread species, but with "quirky" gaps in the range -- including the coastal areas of NC and VA, and parts of OH, IN, and IL. However, it is present in most counties within its range, from southern New England and southeastern MN, south to central FL and central TX.
AbundanceVery common in the Sandhills region, and common in many or most other areas in the Coastal Plain, except literally absent within about 30 miles of the coast. Common across the Piedmont and mountains, except scarce in the northern mountain counties.
HabitatThis is a species of dry and often sandy soil, a conspicuous and key herbaceous component of pine/scrub oak sandhills habitats. It grows in many other sandy or dry places, such as woodland borders, open dry woods, sandy clearings, xeric sand ridges, margins of flatrocks, and other similar places. Why it does not grow in sandy places near the coast, including dunes and sandy openings in maritime forests, is a complete mystery.
PhenologyBlooms from May to July, and fruits from July to October.
IdentificationThis is an erect species growing to about 1-2 feet high, but is so heavily hairy/villous that the whole plant appears glaucous blue-green. It has a few scattered leaves along the stem, each very hairy and each about 4-6 inches long, divided into 15-25 narrow leaflets. Unlike with the other Tephrosia species, this species has mainly just a single, terminal flower cluster, a raceme of 5-15 fairly large flowers, each about 3/4-inch across. The flowers are strongly bicolored -- the standard is white to cream in color, whereas the keel and wings are bright rose-pink. When in bloom, the species can be seen from long distances owing to the bi-colored flowers. Even when no flowers are visible, the strongly glaucous blue-green color of these hairy plants attracts attention. Nearly everyone is familiar with this species in NC, unless you never set foot outside of a coastal county!
Taxonomic CommentsSome references list varieties for this species, but most do not.

Other Common Name(s)Virginia Goat's-rue, Common Goat's-rue, Virginia Tephrosia, Rabbit-pea
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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