General: Bean family (Fabaceae). Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) is a smooth, stout-stemmed plant that grows up to five feet tall (Ladd 1995). The leaves are smooth; elliptic to oblong, with thirteen to thirty-one stalked leaflets that are one to two inches long. The flowers are greenish white to cream colored, with a regular pea flower shape, located at the ends of long stalks. The fruit is a smooth, erect, stout, woody pod, twelve to fifteen millimeters long and divided into two cells (Vance, Jowsey, & McLean 1984).
Distribution: Astragalus canadensis ranges from Quebec and Vermont to Hudson Bay and British Columbia, south to Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas and Colorado (Steyermark 1963). For current distribution, please consult the Plant profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Canada milk-vetch, Canada milkvetch
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Canadian milkvetch is commonly found in dry prairies, moist shores, riverbanks, marshy grounds and open or partly shaded ground (Voss 1985). This species requires a well-drained soil in a sunny position. It has low tolerance of root disturbance and cannot tolerate extremely cold weather.
Catalog Number: US 369931
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): C. F. Baker
Year Collected: 1899
Locality: Pagosa Springs., Archuleta, Colorado, United States, North America
- Isotype: Rydberg, P. A. 1904. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club. 31: 561.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Propagation by Seed: Canadian milkvetch seeds should be sown in a cold frame as soon as they are ripe. Seeds should be pre-soaked for twenty-four hours in hot water before sowing. Germination can be slow but is usually within four to nine weeks if the seeds are sown fresh. When they are large enough to handle, place the seedlings into individual pots and grow plant them in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them into their permanent positions in spring or early summer.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Canada Milkvetch in Illinois
(Long-tongued bees collect pollen or suck nectar; other insects suck nectar; most observations are from Robertson, although one observation is from Mitchell as indicated below)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus auricomus sn cp fq, Bombus griseocallis sn, Bombus pensylvanica sn cp fq; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Melissodes bimaculata bimaculata sn; Megachilidae (Anthidinini): Anthidium psoraleae sn icp; Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile brevis brevis (Mch), Megachile centuncularis sn
Halictidae (Halictinae): Halictus parallelus sn
Vespidae (Eumeninae): Stenodynerus fundatiformis sn
Hesperiidae: Erynnis martialis sn np
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Astragalus canadensis
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Astragalus canadensis
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: The North American astragalus with the largest distributional range, this species is found throughout most of North America and into Siberia in a wide variety of habitats. It is rare in parts of the eastern and southeastern United States and in a few other areas, but is still common in most of its range. The typical variety is especially abundant from Minnesota and Wisconsin south to Missouri and eastern Oklahoma; the other two varieties are found in the Great Basin and forested Intermountain Northwest, and are abundant in large areas of eastern Washington and Idaho.
Please consult the Plants Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
Materials are somewhat available from native plant seed vendors. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government”. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Canadian milkvetch looks similar to some closely related poisonous locoweeds, so its use is not recommended unless positive identification can be made (Kindscher 1987). Many members of this genus contain a poison that affects cattle (Fielder 1975). They become affected with a sort of insanity, a slow poisoning that can cause death within a period of months or even a year or two (Ibid).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Ethnobotanic: The Blackfoot, who dug them in the spring for eating (Kindscher 1987), gathered Canadian milkvetch roots. Canadian milkvetch was often used in a broth (Moerman 1998).
Medical: The root is analgesic and antihaemorrhagic and can be chewed or used as a tea to treat chest and back pains, coughs and spiting up of blood (Moerman 1998). A poultice made from the chewed root has also been used to treat cuts (Ibid.).
Astragalus canadensis is a common and widespread member of the milkvetch genus in the legume family, known commonly as Canadian milkvetch. The plant is found throughout Canada and the United States in many habitats including wetlands, woodlands, and prairies. It sends out several thin, erect, green stems, bearing leaves that are actually made up of pairs of leaflets, each leaflet up to 3 centimeters in length. It has inflorescences of tubular, greenish-white flowers which yield beanlike fruits within pods that rattle when dry.
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