What’s Blooming 7/12/2016
By: | 12/07/2016
Purple Prairie Clover – Dalea purpurea
Throughout the Idaho Botanical Garden you may notice certain plants covered in small metal cages made of chicken wire. Curious visitors often ask what we use these cages for, and the answer is: for protection. It really is a problem we have brought on ourselves. While human members see the staggering variety of plants we have here at the garden as a tapestry to be admired, our resident critters see a veritable smorgasbord of tasty treats. One particularly appetizing plant that needs extra protection is Purple Prairie Clover, Dalea purpurea. Without fortification, this plant would surely have succumbed to our rabbit population years ago, the young shoots being especially desirable for their high protein content. Luckily the clover has become more established over the years, and now appears to be at the point where it is not as appetizing, having woodier, thicker stems, and thus in less need of protection.
Although commonly called clover, Purple Prairie Clover is slightly different from what we commonly think of as clover, or the genus Trifolium. While still a member of the family Fabaceae, and thus possessing great nitrogen fixing power, Purple Prairie Clover is taller than common clover, and has short, narrow leaves. Dalea purpurea forms a cone of tiny purple flowers that open from the bottom of the spear and unfurl upwards. The purple petals stand in beautiful contrast to the bright orange stamens that beckon pollinators.
Found throughout the Great Plains, Dalea purpurea is not an Idaho native. However, Lewis and Clark did see it on their journey and collected it in nearby Nebraska and North Dakota. Idaho can lay claim to one native Dalea however, Dalea ornata, commonly called Western Prairie Clover. Like its name suggests, Western Prairie Clover is more common in the west than Purple Prairie Clover. The two plants are extremely similar in appearance, and seem to be equally appealing to the rabbits here at the garden.
You can see Dalea purpurea and its white flowering cousin, Dalea candida, blooming now at the Idaho Botanical Garden in the Prairie Zone of the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden. Dalea ornata can be found in the Idaho Native Plant Garden.
Written by IBG gardener, Anna Lindquist