Astragalus canadensis (Canada Milkvetch)

Plant Info
Also known as: Canadian Milk-vetch
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; average to moist soil, prairies, shorelines, edges of woods
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:12 to 40 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Flowers are in densely packed spike-like clusters up to 6 inches long at the end of a long stalk arising from a leaf axil. Individual flowers are about ½ inch long, a typical pea shape but elongated. The color ranges from pale yellow to greenish to creamy white. One plant has several to many spikes on many branching stems.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in groups of 15 to 31. Leaflets are to 1¼ inches long and ½ inch wide, becoming smaller at the end of the leaf. The shape is eliptical to egg-shaped, with a rounded base and blunt point at the tip. Leaflets are slightly hairy, and toothless. Stems are ridged, slightly hairy, and turn red in strong sun.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a smooth oval 2-chambered pod about ½ inch long, with the remains of the style forming a “tail” at the top.


Native legumes like Canada Milkvetch are an important part of the Minnesota ecology. Canada Milkvetch and Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) seed is a food source for Acanthoscelides aureolus, a tiny weevil, the beginning of the predatory food chain. Canada Milkvetch makes a great garden plant and is adaptable to any reasonably well-drained soil, fixing nitrogen into the soil and providing erosion control. Non-natives like Chickpea Milkvetch (Astragalus cicer) are often used for these purposes instead, since, being “pest-free”, they are not subject to the insect/herbivore complex that keeps native species populations under control, which, of course, allows the non-natives to flourish unchecked.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Wild River State Park, Chisago county and McKnight Prairie, Goodhue county. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Stearns county.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: allen k
on: 2009-07-09 14:16:36

I pick the pods and give them to the MN DNR Wildlife Managers so they can plant the seed on the wildlife management areas

Posted by: Kenny h - East of rose creek on shooting star trail
on: 2017-07-09 18:59:40

Found some growing in among some Sumac...I would think Sumac would be tough to compete with.

Posted by: LeAnn Plinske - Baxter
on: 2020-07-22 18:51:16

I believe we found these blooming this week in St. Mathias Heritage Trails Park, south of Brainerd.

Posted by: luciearl - lake shore, mn
on: 2021-07-14 13:12:21

This is the first year Im noticing quite bit of Canada Milkvetch on a nearby trail. There is also Crown Vetch growing on the trail. Without the flowers it is difficult to distinguish the two. Leaflets are both varying sizes within both species. Is one opposite leaflets and the other slightly alternate?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-07-14 13:53:38

Luciearl, crown vetch has weak stems and tends to sprawl on the ground or over other plants, like a vine. Canada milkvetch is a stiffer, bushier, more erect plant. The compound leaves of both are alternate; on both, the leaflets on a compound leaf are mostly opposite or nearly so. The fruits are also quite different between the two.

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