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] panicled tick trefoil[2]

Taxonomic Notes

Synonym: D. paniculatum; Meibomia chapmanii (Britton) Small; D. paniculatum var. pubens Torrey & A. Gray; Meibomia paniculata (Linnaeus) Kuntze; Meibomia pubens (Torrey & A. Gray) Rydberg; D. paniculatum var. paniculatum

Varieties: D. paniculatum var. paniculatum; D. paniculatum var. epetiolatum[1][3]


Desmodium paniculatum is a facultative upland dioecious perennial forb/herb.[1] It uses low amounts of water, inhabits dry clay or loamy soils, and prefers intermediate levels of shade.[2] A study showed D. paniculatum to contain 24% and 9% more dry weight in 50% and 80% shade, respectively, than in full sun.[4]


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.[5]



D. paniculatum is found in pine savannas, flatwoods, bogs, fields, woodland borders, and disturbed areas.[3] It is also considered a characteristic species for pine-oak-hickory woodlands.[6]


D. paniculatum has been observed to flower between July and November, with peak inflorescence in September[3][7] with conspicuous purple colored flowers.[2] Flowering can be delayed and seed production reduced when grown in high densities where competition is prevalent.[8] 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.[9]

Seed dispersal

This species is thought to be dispersed by translocation on animal fur or feathers. [10] 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.[9][11]

Seed bank and germination

Seeds of D. paniculatum germinate above the ground (epigeal germination).[12] Germination rates averaged around 25%.[13] However, larger seeds have higher rates of germination than smaller seeds.[13][14] Rates of germination can also be increased to around 50% and 68% by article clipping or scarification/surface sterilization, respectively.[13]

Fire ecology

Desmodium paniculatum has lower nitrogen concentrations in its tissues 1 year after burning than 3 years after.[15]

Use by animals

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.[16]

Conservation and Management

Cultivation and restoration

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 2.2 Plant database: Desmodium paniculatum. (12 December 2017).Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. URL:
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Weakley A. S.(2015). Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Herbarium.
  4. 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.
  5. Woods M. (2008). Then genera Desmodium and Hylodesmum (Fabaceae) in Alabama. Castanea 73(1):46-69.
  6. Clewell A. F. (2013). Prior prevalence of shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodlands in the Tallahassee red hills. Castanea 78(4):266-276.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Wulff R. D. (1986). Seed size variation in Desmodium paniculatum: I. Factors affecting seed size. Journal of Ecology 74(1):87-97.
  10. 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.
  11. Isely D. (1953). Desmodium paniculatum (L.) DC. and D. viridiflorum (L.) DC. The American Midland Naturalist. 49(3):920-933.
  12. Wulff R. D. (1985). Effect of seed size on heteroblastic development in seedlings of Desmodium paniculatum.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.