Goat’s Rue (Hoary Pea)

Tephrosia virginiana
Family

Fabaceae (beans)

Description

A low, bushy, hairy perennial. Flowers in terminal racemes and others arising from leaf axils, with showy, pea-flower-type blossoms; the standard (larger upper petal) light yellow suffused with pink, and the keel (2 united lower petals) pink or pale purple. Blooms May–August. Leaves alternate, feather-compound, with normally 21 narrowly oblong leaflets, hairy. Fruit small pods to 2 inches long.

Size

Height: to 2 feet tall, but usually shorter.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in rocky, open woods, savannas, prairies, glades, and fields, in acid soils.

image of Goat's Rue Hoary Pea Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

South of the Missouri River, scattered north of it.

Human connections

The roots contain rotenone, a deadly poison for fish and other cold-blooded animals. Native Americans used the plant extract for fish poison. They also used it for a variety of medicinal purposes. Settlers fed it to goats thinking it would increase milk production.

Ecosystem connections

Like other legumes, this plant adds nitrogen to the soil. Bees and other insects are attracted to the flowers, and caterpillars and beetles feed on the foliage (making themselves toxic to predators). Wild turkey eat the seeds.