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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - May 30, 2012

From: Fort Worth, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Plant identification
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I had a strange plant pop up in my yard this year, and I figured maybe you guys could help me out. This plant is spreading along the ground, and the stem is woody right where it is coming out of the ground. It has complex leaflets, and I'm not sure if I'm using the terminology correctly, but I mean that the stems have little stems coming off of them that are covered in neat little leaflets. At first I thought it was some kind of fern, but then it started pushing up separate stems with a spiky little ball on the end of them, and in the course of a few days, all of those little spikes starting opening up into little flowers about an eighth of an inch long. They apparently pollinated, because now the plant has slightly curved seedpods growing up from the plant that kind of resemble claws, and some of them are already two inches long. The leaflets fold up at night and during the day when the sun is hitting it directly. The little plant is growing in a little area that is shaded for most of the day.

ANSWER:

From your description your plant sound like one of the species of Desmanthus.  According to the USDA Plant Database there are 3 species that occur in or adjacent to Tarrant County.  You can see the county distribution for each of those below by clicking on Texas on its distribution map.

Desmanthus illinoensis (Illinois bundleflower)

Desmanthus leptolobus (Slenderlobe bundleflower) and here are photos and more information.

Desmanthus velutinus (Velvet bundleflower) and here are more photos.

We think the most likely identity for your plant is Desmanthus velutinus (Velvet bundleflower).   The Illinois bundleflower seed pods are very curved even when young and green and the fruits of D. leptolobus is usually not as indented as those of D. velutinus.

 

From the Image Gallery


Illinois bundleflower
Desmanthus illinoensis

Illinois bundleflower
Desmanthus illinoensis

Velvet bundleflower
Desmanthus velutinus

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