Astragalus cicer (Chickpea Milk-vetch)
|Also known as:||Cicer Milkvetch|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; moist soil; disturbed areas|
|Bloom season:||June - August|
|Plant height:||12 to 30 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Dense spike-like clusters ¾ to 2½ inches long of pea-shaped flowers on a long smooth stalk arising from leaf axils. Flowers are 1/3 to ½ inch long, creamy white, the upper petal about twice as long as the lower. The tubular calyx holding the flower has several dark green prongs at the tip end, and is usually hairy.
Leaves and stem:
Leaves are compound in groups of 17 to 29. Leaflets are oval to egg-shaped, 1/3 to 1½ inches long, 1/8 to ¾ inch wide, becoming smaller towards the leaf tip, with pointed or blunt tips. Stems are hairless, ridged, and fairly weak; they may be erect but are more often sprawling, creating dense tangled mats.
Fruit is a 2-sectioned pod, oval to egg-shaped, about ½ inch long and densely covered in soft hairs. The remains of the style forms a tail at the top. The pod becomes more stiff and leathery as the seed ripens.
Notes:The flowers of Chickpea Milk-vetch are very similar to the native Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), which does not sprawl or form dense mats and has fruit covered in distinctly hooked hairs. Chickpea Milk-vetch is a relatively new weed in Minnesota. Like its relative Crown Vetch, it has been promoted as a good plant for erosion control due to its dense root system (didn't we learn anything from Crown Vetch?) and also as a forage crop. Also like Crown Vetch, it has a tendancy to escape into areas where it is not wanted, though it is not as widely established as Crown Vetch, at least not yet (maybe we did not learn anything after all...). I have no doubt it is highly under-reported in Minnesota. It is actively marketed but should not be sold or planted here. The principle reason non-natives like A. cicer are promoted over natives is because they do not suffer from the insect/herbivore complexes that control populations naturally, but that is precisely what allows them to become invasive.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken at Vadnais/Snail Lake Regional Park, Shoreview. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at a planting at a storm water retention pond at the corner of Old Highway 8 and Highway 96 in New Brighton, Ramsey County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?