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Illinois Tick Trefoil

Common Name: Illinois Tick Trefoil.

Scientific Name: Desmodium Illinoense.

What to look for?  Clusters of small, pale purple and white flowers sitting high atop a tall stem. The Illinois Tick Trefoil is a tall, nearly branchless, perennial plant. The stout central stem is round and covered with fine hooked hairs. The alternate compound leaves are trifoliate with three oblong leaflets. The central stem terminates in an elongated raceme of flowers. Each tiny flower is either pale purple or white. There is no noticeable floral scent. The flowers are replaced by flat seedpods covered with hooked hairs that can break off and cling to a passing carrier. The root system consists of a stout taproot. The Illinois Tick Trefoil occurs as scattered plans and does not form colonies.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Illinois Tick Trefoil plants are not frequently occurring. There is one plant in the restored prairie at Stonegate Park.

How big are they? The Illinois Tick Trefoil grows up to four (4) feet. The narrow, oval leaves are approximately 2 ½ inches long and one (1) inch across. The individual flowers are approximately one (1) inch in length.

Where do they grow and thrive? Illinois Tick Trefoil is native to Illinois and is found primarily in the central and northern areas of the state. Across the U.S., Illinois Tick Trefoil ranges from the Midwest and Great Plains and up into Canada. This plant is usually found in mesic to slightly dry prairies, oak savannas, scrubby barrens, and areas along railroads and roadsides. Usually, Illinois Tick Trefoil occurs as scattered plants rather than dense colonies!

When do they bloom? The blooming period usually occurs during mid-summer and lasts about 3 weeks. Usually, only a few flowers are in bloom at the same time.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? The pollen from the flowers – no nectar - attract bumblebees and several other bees. Insects feed on the leaves, seeds, and other parts of Illinois Tick Trefoil. The foliage is palatable to mammalian herbivores, including deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and livestock.

Interesting Facts About Illinois Tick Trefoil:

  • Illinois Tick Trefoil is not very showy because only a few flowers are in bloom at the same time.

  • Genus name comes from the Greek word ‘desmos’ meaning a band or chain with reference to the jointed pods.
    Specific epithet means of Illinois.

For more information on the Illinois Tick Trefoil and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, Minnesota Wildflowers, Missouri Botanical Garden, and University of Texas Wildflower Center.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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