Astragalus crassicarpus, also known as ground plum, is a low-growing perennial legume. It is found on dry prairie hillsides and makes an excellent border edge. It has a taproot that breaks up prairie soils and like other legumes is a nitrogen fixer, making food for other plants and for the soil microbes that are busy storing carbon. In March through May, the beautiful pea-like lavender blooms attract numerous early spring pollinators. Willa Cather referred to it as “Buffalo-pea” in her writings.  The seed pods are succulent and plump and take on a plum-like appearance, hence the name ground plum. The pods are edible when green, but the plant is poisonous. Mammals of all types eat the pods and rodents cache them in their dens, occasionally leaving a few seeds behind that can germinate underground.  Its silvery pubescent leaves, the flowers and the seed pods give this plant interest throughout the growing season. The pods dry and seeds are ready to harvest in early July. This beautiful early season plant feeds your eyes, pollinators, prairie mammals and the earth itself.

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