Description & Overview

A native inhabitant of southeastern Wisconsin, Goat’s Rue is a distinctive plant that will surely catch your eye. This member of the pea family has an upright sprawling habit. The gray-green, hairy foliage develops clusters of beautiful, pea-like flowers that are bicolored pink and yellow.

Goat’s Rue may also be known as Rabbit-pea or Devil’s Shoestrings.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 8-28 inches

Mature Spread: 12-24 inches

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Erect to mounding, sprawling

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Dry-moderate moisture, acidic, well-drained

Flower: Pink and yellow, pea-like, 5-parted, ½ - ¾" long

Bloom Period: June–July

Foliage: Gray-green, hairy, pinnately compound

Fall Color: None

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Long, hairy pods, coil when opening, up to 3" long, seeds inside are kidney shaped

Suggested Uses

This plant is happiest in full sun in acidic, sandy soils with dry to moderate moisture. It will not do well in heavy clay soils or shade. Plant Goat’s Rue along sunny borders where its silvery foliage and bicolored flowers can be appreciated up close. The unique foliage will add a fine texture to any native garden, all the while adding nitrogen to the soil!

The roots of Goat’s Rue are long, run deep, and stringy, which can be useful on slopes or hills to help with soil erosion control.

Wildlife Value

Bees and other insects are attracted to the flower, and caterpillars and beetles feed on the foliage (thus making themselves toxic to predators).

Solitary bees, such as the Flat-tailed Leafcutter bee (Megachile mendica), are the main visitors to the flowers of goat’s rue.

Other visitors will include the Federally Endangered and State Special Concern Karner Blue Butterfly (Plebejus melissa samuelis).

Goat’s Rue is the host plant to the Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades).

Wild Turkey and quail will eat the seeds.

Maintenance Tips

Site with caution– once established, plants are best left alone because transplanting is difficult.

The stems are covered in silky silver hairs that may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

All parts of this plant are toxic, and should not be eaten by people or livestock.

Root extracts are toxic to aphids, houseflies, fleas, lice, houseflies, spiders, and more!

Leaf Lore

The genus name Tephrosia is derived from the Greek word tephros meaning “ash-colored,” a nod to the appearance of the leaves. The specific epithet virginiana means “of Virginia.”

The common name Goat’s Rue is in reference to the plant’s odor as it smells like a goat.

This plant is toxic to grazing animals and fish. It contains the insecticide rotenone which was used by Indigenous people to poison and catch fish.

Companion Plants

Plant alongside those that do well in well-draining soils such as:

  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
  • Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis)
  • Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata)
  • Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
  • Northern Pin Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis)
  • Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  • Western Sand Cherry (Prunus besseyi)
  • Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)
  • Sand Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
  • New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
  • Bush Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa)
  • Early Wild Rose (Rosa blanda)
  • Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)
  • Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
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Written by Beth DeLain