Desmodium paniculatum

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Desmodium paniculatum
Desmodium paniculatum KMR 2011.JPG
Photo by Kevin Robertson
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida - Dicots
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Desmodium
Species: D. paniculatum
Binomial name
Desmodium paniculatum
Natural range of Desmodium paniculatum from USDA NRCS Plants Database.

Common Name(s): Panicledleaf Ticktrefoil[1]

Taxonomic Notes

Synonyms: Desmodium paniculatum var. pubens Torrey & A. Gray[2]

Varieties: D. paniculatum (Linnaeus) A.P. de Candolle var. epetiolatum Schubert; D. paniculatum (Linnaeus) A.P. de Candolle var. paniculatum; Meibomia paniculata (Linnaeus) Kuntze; Meibomia pubens (Torrey & A. Gray) Rydberg; Meibomia chapmanii (Britton) Small[2]

The genus name Desmodium derives from Greek meaning "long branch or chain."[3]


Desmodium paniculatum is a facultative upland dioecious perennial forb/herb.[1] Reaching heights of up to 3 feet, central stem is green in color with clover-like leaflets that are oblong and proceeding only singly up the stem. Flowers are purple and grow on the stem maturing from the bottom upwards. Fruit are seed pods that are about 1/8 inch in length.[3] It uses low amounts of water, inhabits dry clay or loamy soils, and prefers intermediate levels of shade.[4] A study showed D. paniculatum to contain 24% and 9% more dry weight in 50% and 80% shade, respectively, than in full sun.[5]


Desmodium paniculatum can be found from Texas to Nebraska, eastward to Florida, the Carolina's, and Pennsylvania, and northward into Michigan, New York, Maine and parts of eastern Canada.[1] In Alabama, D. paniculatum is the most common species of Desmodium found.[6] D. paniculatum var. epetiolatum is distributed from southeast Virginia to either southeast North Carolina or east South Carolina while the distribution of D. paniculatum var. paniculatum is more widespread from south Maine west to south Ontatio, Michigan, and Nebraska south to south Florida and Texas.[7]



D. paniculatum var. epetiolatum is found in bogs and pine savannas and flatwoods while D. paniculatum var. paniculatum can be found in woodland borders, fields, and disturbed areas.[7] It prefers slightly acidic to neutral and medium to fine textured soil, and grows primarily in partial shade.[3] D. paniculatum has also been observed in marsh edges, coastal hammocks, shrubs and thickets, pine flatwoods, upland slopes of pine woods, old fields, borders of swampy wetlands, riversides and shaded banks, and limestone slopes. It grows on a variety of soils including drying sand, loamy sand, mucky clay, sandy clay, loam, alluvial, and other moist soils.[8] It is also considered a characteristic species for pine-oak-hickory woodlands.[9] It is listed as a facultative upland species, where it is commonly found in non-wetland habitats, but can occasionally be found in wetlands.[1] As well, D. paniculatum is a known pioneer species that prefers disturbance from logging, fire, or other disturbances to easily colonize a site.[3] D. paniculatum has shown regrowth in reestablished native coastal plains habitat that was disturbed by agricultural practices in South Carolina, making it a post-agricultural woodlands indicator species.[10] Additionally, it was found to have increased occurrence and abundance in response to clearcutting and chopping in South Carolina. It has also shown positive regrowth in reestablished native forest habitat that was disturbed by these practices.[11]

Associated species: Pinus elliottii, Pinus taeda, Pinus palustris, Pinus sp., Carya sp., Gordonia lasianthus, Quercus laevis, Quercus nigra, Quercus sp., Sabal palmetto, Serenoa sp., Micromeria sp., Ipomoea sp., Desmodium glabellum, Desmodium sp., Juniperus sp., Solidago sp., Lespedeza sp., Heterotheca sp., Helianthus sp., Fagus grandifolia, Liquidambar styraciflua, Calycanthus sp., Lindera sp., Geranium sp., Vaccinium sp., Podophyllum sp., Polygonum sp., Eupatorium sp., Rhus copallinum, and various grasses.[8]


It has a late flowering season.[12] D. paniculatum has been observed to flower between July and November, with peak inflorescence in September[7][13] with conspicuous purple colored flowers.[4] Flowering can be delayed and seed production reduced when grown in high densities where competition is prevalent.[14] Seed weights vary by a factor of about 4 due to difference in several interacting variables including nutrient intake, water availability, photoperiod, temperature, and grazing impact.[15]

Seed dispersal

This species is thought to be dispersed by translocation on animal fur or feathers. [16] Fruit coats are covered with sticky trichomes that allow the seeds to stick to passing organisms and be carried off until they eventually fall off.[15][17]

Seed bank and germination

Seeds of D. paniculatum germinate above the ground (epigeal germination).[18] Germination rates averaged around 25%.[19] However, larger seeds have higher rates of germination than smaller seeds.[19][20] Rates of germination can also be increased to around 50% and 68% by article clipping or scarification/surface sterilization, respectively.[19]

Fire ecology

This species can be found in annually burned upland pine woods[8] such as the Pebble Hill plantation in north Florida[21][22], but it can also grow in fire excluded areas which means that it is not entirely fire dependent.[23] A study by Cushwa in 1970 found that for fire seasonality, D. paniculatum there is not a significant difference between burning in the summer or burning in the spring.[24] However, this species benefits most from fires in the late winter and early summer.[25] It benefits from high fire return intervals.[26] As well, Desmodium paniculatum has lower nitrogen concentrations in its tissues 1 year after burning than 3 years after.[27]


The following bees in the Hymenoptera order are known to pollinate this species: Bombus impatiens, B. pensylvanica, Megachile brevis brevis, M. mendica, M. petulans, M. texana, Melissodes bimaculata bimaculata, Nomia nortoni nortoni, and Calliopsis andreniformis.[3][28]

Herbivory and toxicology

D. paniculatum produces seeds which attract birds and small rodents, including upland game birds such as bobwhite quail and wild turkey and rodents such as the white-footed mouse and deer mouse. It also serves as a source of food for cottontail rabbits, livestock, and other hoofed mammalian herbivores including white tailed deer.[29] Caterpillars of the following butterflies are known to feed on the plant: hoary edge (Achalarus lyciades), silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), southern cloudywing (Thorybes bathyllus), northern cloudywing (Thorybes pylades), eastern tailed blue (Everes comyntas), and gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus). Other insects that feed on this plant include beetles, some thirps, aphids, stinkbugs, and moth caterpillars.

Diseases and parasites

It can be infected by root-knot nematodes, include Meloidogyne arenaria and M. javanica.[30]

Conservation, cultivation, and restoration

Cultural use

Historically, D. paniculatum was used by the Houma Indians in Louisiana for an infusion of the roots with whiskey to treat cramps and weakness.[3]

Photo Gallery

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 USDA, NRCS. (2016). The PLANTS Database (, 30 November 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Weakley, A.S. 2020. Flora of the Southeastern United States. Edition of 20 October 2020. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Kirk, S. and Belt, S. 2009. Plant fact sheet for Panicledleaf Ticktrefoil (Desmodium paniculatum), USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Norman A. Berg National Plant Materials Center, Beltsville, 20705.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Plant database: Desmodium paniculatum. (12 December 2017).Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. URL:
  5. Lin C. H., McGraw R. L., George M. F., and Garrett H. E. (1999). Shade effects on forage crops with potential in temperate agroforestry practices.
  6. Woods M. (2008). Then genera Desmodium and Hylodesmum (Fabaceae) in Alabama. Castanea 73(1):46-69.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Weakley A. S.(2015). Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Herbarium.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Florida State University Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium database. URL: Last accessed: April 2019. Collectors: Harry E. Ahles, Loran C. Anderson, W. R. Anderson, C. F. Baker, Sears Bradley, Ted Bradley, L. J. Brass, Charles T. Bryson, A. F. Clewell, George R. Cooley, V. L. Cory, R. C. Darby, Delzie Demaree, S. J. E., F. S. Earle, Richard J. Eaton, R.K. Godfrey, D. W. Hall, C. J. Hansen, Norlan C. Henderson, Joscelyn W. Hill, C. Jackson, Carleen Jones, S. B. Jones, J. M. Kane, Ed Keppner, Lisa Keppner, Herbert Kessler, Tina Kessler, R. Komarek, R. Kral, John M. Kunzer, O. Lakela, John D. Lazor, Robert L. Lazor, K. MacClendon, Travis MacClendon, Scott McCoy, Sidney McDaniel, Marc Minno, Richard S. Mitchell, C. M. Morton, Bridget C. Naczi, Matthew R. Naczi, Patrick J. Naczi, Robert F.C. Naczi, Timothy A. Naczi, Gil Nelson, G. W. Parmelee, Gwynn W. Ramsey, Peter H. Raven, Tamra Engelhorn Raven, James D. Ray, Jr., J. Roche, Gary Schultz, Cecil R Slaughter, V. Sullivan, B. C. Tharp, John W. Thieret, B. Thomas, Robert F. Thorne, Alfred Traverse, Charles S. Wallis, R. L. Wilbur, G. Wilder, and J. Wooten. States and Counties: Florida: Bay, Calhoun, Clay, Collier, Franklin, Gulf, Highland, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Nassau, Okaloosa, St Johns, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Volusia, Wakulla, and Washington. Georgia: Decatur, Fulton, Grady, Morgan, and Thomas. Alabama: Lee. Arkansas: Bradley and Conway. Illinois: Lawrence. Indiana: Hancock. Louisiana: Livingston. Massachusetts: Franklin. Michigan: Barry. Mississippi: Coahoma, Lauderdale, Quitman, and Washington. Missouri: Jefferson. New York: Westchester. North Carolina: Carteret and Jones. Oklahoma: Comanche and Sequoyah. South Carolina: York. Tennessee. Texas: Harris, Real, and Travis. Virginia: Giles.
  9. Clewell A. F. (2013). Prior prevalence of shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodlands in the Tallahassee red hills. Castanea 78(4):266-276.
  10. Brudvig, L.A., E Grman, C.W. Habeck, and J.A. Ledvina. (2013). Strong legacy of agricultural land use on soils and understory plant communities in longleaf pine woodlands. Forest Ecology and Management 310: 944-955.
  11. Cushwa, C.T. and M.B. Jones. (1969). Wildlife Food Plants on Chopped Areas in Piedmont South Carolina. Note SE-119. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station. 4 pp.
  12. Pavlovic, N. B., et al. (2011). "Short-term effects of burn season on flowering phenology of savanna plants." Plant Ecology 212: 611-625.
  13. Nelson, G. PanFlora: Plant data for the eastern United States with emphasis on the Southeastern Coastal Plains, Florida, and the Florida Panhandle. Accessed: 11 DEC 2017
  14. Wulff R. D. (1986). Seed size variation in Desmodium paniculatum: III. Effects on reproductive yield and competitive ability. Journal of Ecology 74(1):115-121.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Wulff R. D. (1986). Seed size variation in Desmodium paniculatum: I. Factors affecting seed size. Journal of Ecology 74(1):87-97.
  16. Kirkman, L. Katherine. Unpublished database of seed dispersal mode of plants found in Coastal Plain longleaf pine-grasslands of the Jones Ecological Research Center, Georgia.
  17. Isely D. (1953). Desmodium paniculatum (L.) DC. and D. viridiflorum (L.) DC. The American Midland Naturalist. 49(3):920-933.
  18. Wulff R. D. (1985). Effect of seed size on heteroblastic development in seedlings of Desmodium paniculatum.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Dormancy, small seed size and low germination rates contribute to low recruitment in Desmodium cuspidatum (Fabaceae). The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 137(4):355-365.
  20. Wulff R. D. (1986). Seed size variation in Desmodium paniculatum: II. Effects on seedling growth and physiological performance. Journal of Ecology 74(1):99-114.
  21. Robertson, K.M. Unpublished data collected from Pebble Hill Fire Plots, Pebble Hill Plantation, Thomasville, Georgia.
  22. Glitzenstein, J. S., D. R. Streng, R. E. Masters, K. M. Robertson and S. M. Hermann 2012. Fire-frequency effects on vegetation in north Florida pinelands: Another look at the long-term Stoddard Fire Research Plots at Tall Timbers Research Station. Forest Ecology and Management 264: 197-209.
  23. Clewell, A. F. (2014). "Forest development 44 years after fire exclusion in formerly annually burned oldfield pine woodland, Florida." Castanea 79: 147-167.
  24. Cushwa, C. T., et al. (1970). Response of legumes to prescribed burns in loblolly pine stands of the South Carolina Piedmont. Asheville, NC, USDA Forest Service, Research Note SE-140: 6.
  25. Gee, K. L., et al. (1994). White-tailed deer: their foods and management in the cross timbers. Ardmore, OK, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
  26. Mehlman, D. W. (1992). "Effects of fire on plant community composition of North Florida second growth pineland." Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 119(4): 376-383.
  27. Lajeunesse S. D., Dilustro J. J., Sharitz R. R., and Collins B. S. (2006). Ground layer carbon and nitrogen cycling and legume nitrogen inputs following fire in mixed pine forests. American Journal of Botany 93(1):84-93.
  28. Grundel, R., et al. (2011). "A survey of bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) of the Indiana Dunes and Northwest Indiana, USA." Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 84(2): 105-138.
  29. Leif J. and Belt S. (2013). Plant Guide for Panicledleaf ticktrefoil (Desmodium paniculatum), USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rose Lake Plant Materials Center, East Lansing, Michigan, 48823 and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service Norman Berg National Plant Materials Center, Beltsville, Maryland, 20705.
  30. Quesenberry, K. H., et al. (2008). "Response of native southeastern U.S. legumes to root-knot nematodes." Crop Science 48: 2274-2278.