A Brief Note on Painted Milkvetch

Painted milkvetch (Astragalus ceramicus) is a beautiful plant found in open sandy soils throughout much of the Great Plains and western U.S.  It is a perennial legume with white to pinkish flowers, but is most easily recognized by its ornate seed pods, which resemble painted eggs.  In Nebraska, the plant is often associated with blowouts (open areas of active wind erosion) in the Sandhills region.

Painted milkvetch is known for its ornate seed pods that are an inch or two in length.

Unfortunately, I’ve just exhausted the sum total of information I have on painted milkvetch.  I could only come up with a paltry 78 words to describe this amazing plant.  The reason it’s so unfortunate is that I don’t have anything else prepared for this week’s blog post, and don’t really have time to start from scratch on a new topic.  I had three nice photos of painted milkvetch ready to go, and figured I’d just do some quick research and create a nice little blog post on the natural history of the species.  Is it my fault nobody seems to have pulled together fascinating factoids on painted milkvetch and made them easily accessible to those of us trying to entertain and inform the public?  Don’t answer that.

Painted milkvetch really likes open sandy areas like this one.

By this time, you’ve probably realized there isn’t going to be any additional information of interest to you.  I’m sorry to waste your time by leading you on like this, but I’m hoping many people will just scan the first paragraph, look at the photos, and click on to something else of interest on the internet.  Maybe they’ll check the score of the big game last night, or see what the weather is going to be so they know whether they need to pack a stocking cap or umbrella for the day.  If so, they’ll never know that the rest of this blog post is just me blithering on about nothing in order to make it look like there’s a full blog post’s worth of information here.  Because there isn’t.

I mean, I could give you a description of the shape and size of the leaves, and general stature of the plant, but the photos pretty much show you what you need to know, right?  What I really wanted was some cool stories about the kinds of animals that feed on the leaves or seeds of the plant, specialist pollinators that use its flowers, or maybe even a description of the kind of chemical or physical properties the plant uses to compete with surrounding plants.  I bet you’d have liked to learn things like that too, but I didn’t find anything.  Again, I apologize for that.

Well, now I’m at about 460 words, which is certainly more respectable than 78 words.  I mean, 78 words is basically just a long caption.  No one would consider it sufficient for a blog post.  Now, if I can figure out how to get to 500 words, that will be

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
This entry was posted in Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to A Brief Note on Painted Milkvetch

  1. Kathryn Kerr says:

    I read every word, look at every photo, appreciate every post.

  2. John I. Blair says:

    LMAO! And thanks for the beautiful photos of this plant I had never previously heard of.

  3. Kathryn Kerr says:

    And I did not know at all about this plant, so pretty. Thanks.

  4. Jasmine says:

    Pret-ty much how I feel about this paper on targeted grazing with sheep! Why only 8ish papers examining how sheep grazing affects leafy spurge or spotted knapweed density, biomass, cover and seedbank?! Why must they all have very different study designs??
    Anyway, I’ve always wanted to see one of these plants, and your photos makes it alllllmost like I have. :)
    Thanks for the chuckle tonight!

  5. Al Roloff says:

    Thanks Chris! A new plant to me and after 78 words I cracked a smile and finished at 500 words with a snicker and a few chortles.

  6. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you’ve got three! Well done I say.

    • Laurel Erickson says:

      Exactly what I was thinking!! Beautiful photos, and an introduction to a plant I’ve never heard of or seen. Thanks.

  7. Diane Trevino says:

    Hey, you’re forgiven — in fact, you don’t need forgiveness — just thanks. I’d never heard of the plant, and it’s just lovely.

  8. Nancy says:

    Chris – What do the leaves look like? Are they actually so reduced as your photos suggest? We are doing a basic study on Astragalus crassicarpus here in Minnesota because there is very little natural history known about that beautiful species either!

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Nancy!! Great to hear from you. And I’m happy to help. “Native perennial growing from a deeply buried, branching caudex and spreading rhizomes. Leaves mostly reduced to slender, grasslike stalks. Stems weak, stockpile, often reclining on ground and somewhat zigzagging in form, 2-15 inches in length. Small, inconspicuous, praline, white to publish flowers; 2-7 per stalk from upper leaf axils.” Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains. Jon Farrar.

  9. Bernie Buchholz says:

    Chris, I think you have too much time on your hands…but you did generate a smile.Thanks for being so irreverent.

  10. Angela Anderson says:

    Chris,
    I discovered this gem on my walks with my daughter at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge where she lives. I love walking those hills.

  11. Ha! Thank you! I needed that blog more than I ca

  12. nigel64 says:

    Wow, three photos of a plant I’ve never heardof and some chuckles thrown in – Thanks Chris.
    Aaand, searching on Astralagus ceramicus I find its a hyperconcentrator (esp. of selenium – http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI3373243/) and I’m always looking for new metal-scavenging plants.

  13. Mary Beth Martin says:

    In this case a picture is better than a thousand words, it makes me want to hop a plane and go searching for this gem of a plant, oh yeah it’s almost December! Good job piquing my curiosity!

  14. Betty says:

    Loved the photos and loved your honesty. So grateful for your posts exposing us to plants of interest that we may never actually even be aware of their existence!

  15. Rob Fleming says:

    You can ramble on as much as you want. I enjoy every post.

  16. rstinejr says:

    Your epic post is an inspiration to bloggers everywhere! And those are the prettiest seed pods I’ve ever seen. :D

  17. Jo Major Ciolino says:

    Thanks for a badly needed laugh – and the pics of a magnificent plant I had never heard of. I a, enchanted with the, and so thankful for you!

  18. Ranger Ed Lagace says:

    Photos are great I now know more than I previously did. I especially like the shape and the marking of the pod, it resembles a chrysalis. Thank you for your posts they are always informative, entertaining and especially important to our plant community. I seldom get to go west to the prairies I am pluged into the river community so your photos give me and others the opportunity to truly visit prairie with out leaving the office. Thank you!

  19. Denise Gehring says:

    Hi Chris: For milk vetch, check out Illinois Wildflowers–they have a faunal section. John Hinty has a great resource. While direct experience is best, he can give some insights in the meantime. Enjoy reading your blog–

    Denise Gehring Wild Ones Oak Openings Region, OH

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  20. Ron says:

    Neat plant that I’ve never seen before.

  21. Joanne says:

    Beautiful Photos — anything you post brings back memories of growing up in the Sandhills. That in itself is a worth every word.

  22. Karen H. says:

    OK, I am going back and count those words!

  23. Caleb Dalley says:

    A little more information on painted milkvetch.
    http://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=PDFAB0F1V1

  24. Ernest Ochsner says:

    Thanks for a new one, very nice little plant. Maybe too much sugar for thanksgiving? the other posts are right this ones worth 3500 words.

  25. Rebecca says:

    I read the whole thing. It does certainly look like a fascinating plant. Blowouts are largely unappreciated as their own ecosystem, in my opinion. Thank you for posting all 400+ words.

  26. Laura says:

    Ah, the life of a naturalist, always more unanswered questions than definitive answers. But you have passed on the inspiration for me to seek the answers.

  27. David Robertson says:

    Since I don’t live in the Midwest and have never heard of (let alone seen) this really cool plant, I appreciate your post. Good job!

  28. Finding this plant is my new goal in life. As always, I love reading your blog.

  29. James C. Trager says:

    Beautiful plant in a beautiful and underappreciated habitat. Thanks for introducing us to it.

    And as they try to drum in when rehabilitating child-soldiers, “It’s not your fault.”

  30. Laura says:

    No apologies needed! You do a great job of educating folks and I love learning about the plants and insects that you share with us.

  31. Alina Oakleaf says:

    This looks like a Christmas ornament, lovely and thanks for the ramble, enjoyed!

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