A rather strange looking plant grows near the northwest corner of my prairie. It is too big for a wildflower, and too little to be a shrub. So I did a little research and discovered it is a leadplant. Scientific name: Amorpha canescens.

It gets its name from its lead-colored silver-gray leaves. Its flowers are purplish-orange and it blooms in July and August. It is one of our many native plants.

The growing range for leadplant stretches from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, right down the middle of the U.S., Canada to the north and Texas to the south. It will grow three feet tall on soil ranging from acidic (what I have) to soils somewhat alkaline. It is drought resistant and is a legume, which means it fixes nitrogen in the soil.

The early pioneers called this plant “The Devil’s Shoestring” because of its tough root system which tangled their breaking plows. Of course, the deep and tangled roots of the lead plant allow it to survive on droughty, sandy soils, which make up much of my farm.

Native Americans in the region knew about the leadplant and used it in many ways. They made tea from the leaves. Sometimes they drank the tea as a medicine to treat such health challenges as rheumatism and pinworms. They also put the leaves on open wounds. Some Native Americans believed that the smoke from burning leadplant leaves would attract buffalo to the person who had the smell of the smoke on their clothing.

Today, I enjoy looking at it and appreciate that I have this special plant growing in my prairie.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: There is always something interesting to see in nature.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to 

Read or Share this story: