Tephrosia spicata – A Tough Plant for Tough Conditions

Tephrosia spicata, the Spiked Hoarypea, is a small, native perennial that is found in scattered communities throughout North Carolina.  In the Falls Lake area,  it is usually found in open areas along roadsides and power lines, in ditches, and in open fields.  It matures in the heat of the summer and blooms June through August, seemingly immune to high temperatures and drought.  The compound leaves of T. spicata can be hard to see when in thick vegetation, so the summer pink or red blooms draw attention to the plant.  In the photo below, the pink flower is in the center, surrounded by its compound leaves, indicated by small, yellow arrows.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea

The small plant below is growing in the open dirt at the edge of a roadway, allowing a better look at the sparse leaves and the sprawling growth habit.  A flowering spike can be seen forming at one of the leaf axils.  It is indicated by a red pointer.  The long, thin flowering stalk is the origin of the “Spiked” part of the common name.  In older references, the plant was once called “Spike-flowered Tephrosia”.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Early Flower Spike

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Early Flower Spike

The leaves are covered by coarse brown, rusty hairs, and the tips of the leaflets end in a sharp point.  The coarse, rusty hairs explain the “hoary” part of the common name.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Rusty Hairs and Pointed Leaflet Tips

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Rusty Hairs and Pointed Leaflet Tips

Below are photos of the flowers as they typically appear.  Although red flowers usually predominate, most have white flowers as well.  The flowers tend to be closed most of the time, but sometimes open in the morning after a hard rain at night.   They usually open in the mid to late afternoon, but they rarely open completely.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Flowers

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Flowers

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Flower

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Open Flower

In the side view of this flower, the long, green, stalked structure extending from the flower is the style.  The stamens can also  be seen – smaller, white, and above the style.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Open Flower

 

The picture of the white flower below shows the green style protruding up from the flower, with the white stamens below it, mostly to the left.  The stigma can be seen at the tip of the style.  Note that even the style is covered with tiny hairs.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Open Flower

Tephrosia spicata is a member of the pea family, the Fabaceae.  After the bloom, a typical legume or pod is formed.  In the next two photos, the individual seeds can be seen forming along the top of the pod.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Legume

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Legume

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarpea Legume

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Legume

When not in flower, Tephrosia spicata can be confused with vetch (Vicia  sp.), which also has compound leaves and similar habitat.   The easiest way to differentiate the two in the field is to examine the terminal part of the leaf.  The leaf of T. spicata terminates in a leaflet not a tendril; the plant drapes across foliage but does not climb. See below.

Tephrosia spicata Spiked Hoarypea Leaf

Tephrosia spicata
Spiked Hoarypea
Leaf

The leaf of a vetch terminates in a tendril that helps support the plant and allows it to climb.

Vicia sp. Vetch Tendrils

Vicia sp.
Vetch
Tendrils

Herb Amyx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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