Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator
I was fortunate enough to camp at Canton Lake twice this summer. While enjoying peaceful kayak rides along the shoreline I found two plants that I'd never seen before. It's always exciting to find new plants, but these were particularly thrilling. They are both native plants, and to me represent a healthy diversity of plant life in that area.
In the spring the water was high enough for me to kayak up Copperas creek a little ways. As I entered the creek area, there were many plants with interesting purple-tipped flowers. After some investigation, I identified them as false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa).
False indigo bush is a 4- to 16-foot tall shrubby plant. Its leaves are very similar to locust trees, which means they have 11-35 smaller leaflet on each leaf. Leaflets are each one to two inches long with rounded edges. It was the flowers that caught my eye. Attractive purple flowers with neon orange stamens. Individual flowers are about ¼ inch long, with many flowers arranged along long stems (racemes). This plant is a legume in the pea family (Fabaceae) so individual flowers look similar to peas, beans, wisteria, and clovers.
This plant naturally grows in wet areas. Unfortunately, its numbers are declining due to habitat destruction.
This fall I found another pea family plant. American Groundnut (Apios americana), also called Indian potato. It is a 3- to 10-foot long perennial vine with edible beans and tubers. The attractive maroon flowers first caught my eye. Flowers are also quite fragrant.
This legume's common names come from its edible tuber, which Native Americans gathered for food. Some say that Pilgrims relied on this plant as a food source during their early years. maroon or reddish-brown pea-like flowersthat first caught my eye. The leaves are very soybean-like in shape and size, but groundnut's compound leaves have five leaflets instead of three like in soybeans.
Thislegumehas a cord-like rootstalk with edible tubers the Indians gathered for food. The Pilgrims relied on them as a food source during their initial years in Massachusetts. The tubers can be used in soups and stews or fried like potatoes; the cooked seeds can also be eaten.The tubers are high in protein and similar to potato can be boiled, roasted, or sautéed.
Scroll through the pictures above to see picture of other plants I photographed at Canton Lake this year include wafer ash, sugar maple, hawthorn, linden, native bittersweet, sumac, lobelia, and vervain.
MEET THE AUTHOR
As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.
After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.
ABOUT THE BLOG
ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.