Description & Overview

There is something magical about Purple Prairie Clover swaying in the breeze, their vibrant thimble-shaped heads dancing in time to a beat only they can hear. Bees buzz, diving in and out to fill their pollen sacs with nutritious goodness, while butterflies gently land on florets to drink nectar from golden-yellow stamens. Standing in front of a patch of Purple Prairie Clover is truly entertaining and calls to mind a busy airport terminal, with travelers rushing in and out — a hub of activity.

You may also know this plant as Violet Prairie Clover.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 12-36 inches

Mature Spread: 18-24 inches

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Upright

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Well-drained, average, dry to moist soils; drought tolerant

Flower: Rose-magenta, thimble-sized bottlebrush-like flowers bloom from the bottom to the top

Bloom Period: June through September

Foliage: Delicate, narrow, deep green leaves on wiry stems

Fall Color: N/A

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Dry, hairless seeds

Suggested Uses

A once abundant Wisconsin native perennial growing naturally in prairie-like settings, Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) prefers full sun and dry soil and can tolerate occasional drought once established. Sitting atop multiple stems decorated in deep green, pea-like foliage, cylinder-shaped spikes of magenta-purple florets appear in mid-summer. Blooming from the bottom and gradually upwards, flowers last from four to six weeks, and then turn into clusters of small grayish-brown seed pods.

With its texture, interesting shape, arresting color, high pollinator value, and nitrogen-fixing abilities Purple Prairie Clover is a dynamo in the garden. Lower in height and tolerant of most conditions, they can be used in rock, native, pollinator, and perennial gardens, as well as prairie restorations. They are so unusual looking, expect people to stop and inquire about these lovely plants. Plant in masses for a showy display!

Purple Prairie Clover is an excellent choice to stabilize areas, anchoring plants in place and preventing erosion with its thick taproot that can extend up to 6′ deep into the soil. A member of the pea family (Fabaceae), Purple Prairie Clover traps airborne nitrogen into the soil and acts as a fertilizer when spent plants are left to enrich the soil. For this reason, they are fantastic for tough spots with troublesome soil in need of help and restoration.

Thimble-like flower heads and vibrant color make an outstanding accent flower in cut arrangements, either fresh or dried.

There is something magical about Purple Prairie Clover swaying in the breeze, their vibrant thimble-shaped heads dancing in time to a beat only they c…

Wildlife Value

When in bloom, expect tons of pollinators as Purple Prairie Clover is a favorite of many for pollen and nectar. Its pollen has an oily coating that gives the flower its bright orange bursts of color that attract honeybees, bumblebees, cuckoos, leafcutters, and long- and short-tongued bees. It’s also a superfood for the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (considered a federally Endangered Species). The Cellophane Bee is a specialist bee, predominantly foraging on Purple Prairie Clover for its pollen needs.

Purple Prairie Clover provides nectar to Eastern Tailed Blue (Everes comyntas), Clouded Sulphur (Colias Philodice), Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus), and the Orange Sulpher (Colias eurytheme) butterflies as well as hummingbirds, Syrphid Flies, Soldier Beetles, wasps, and ants. This powerhouse plant is also a host for the Southern Dogface butterfly, considered a migrant in Wisconsin and often found in the more southern counties of the state.

After blooming, flower spikes develop into long clusters of bract-covered seed pods that provide high-nutrition food for birds such as quail, finches, sparrows, and juncos.

Maintenance Tips

Purple Prairie Clover can be grown in any soil condition provided the area has full sun – at least 6 to 8 hours. They can seem to be somewhat slow to establish, as most of their energy is directed into forming strong roots, but rest assured they are doing their thing and will come back strong.

Forgo cutting back in the fall and keep dried stems intact to provide nesting opportunities and habitat for pollinators, as well as seeds for birds.

There is something magical about Purple Prairie Clover swaying in the breeze, their vibrant thimble-shaped heads dancing in time to a beat only they c…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerance: No
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

No serious problems.

Leaf Lore

The genus name for Purple Prairie Clover, Dalea, honors Samuel Dale, a 17-18th century English amateur botanist, physician, apothecary, and botanical collector. The epithet purpurea is Latin for “reddish-purple”.

Considered edible, the Dakota and Oglala made tea from the leaves of the Purple Prairie Clover, while the Comanche, Lakota, and Ponca chewed the roots for their sweet taste. As a medicinal treatment, the Pawnee, Navajo, and Awaki made an infusion of the roots to ward off illness, pneumonia, and measles, and the leaves were used as a poultice to dress wounds.

The Lewis and Clark Herbarium at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has two original specimens from those originally collected by Meriwether Lewis in 1804 during the expedition in Weeping Water Creek, Nebraska. They were sent to President Jefferson the following year and forwarded on to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia to be cataloged by librarian John Vaughan in a “Donation Book” among 200 other plant specimens.

Companion Plants

For contrasting colors, consider using Butterflyweed, Sweet Black-eyed Susan, or any of the native Coreopsis. Mix with other pollinator magnets such as Spotted Bee Balm, Milkweed, Leadplant, American Pasque Flower, Asters, or Goldenrod to create a buffet. Intermingle with low-growing ornamental grasses Prairie Dropseed, Hameln Dwarf Fountain Grass, or Little Bluestem to add even more texture and movement.

There is something magical about Purple Prairie Clover swaying in the breeze, their vibrant thimble-shaped heads dancing in time to a beat only they c…
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Written by Johnson's Nursery