Identification Helps: A low, leafy legume vine with characteristic leafs (seen photo).
Similar Species: No other prairie species is so vine-like, with similarly-shaped leaves.
Preferred Growing Conditions in the Wild: Found in fertile prairies.
Preferred Soils: Grows in all prairie soils.
Seasons of Growth and Bloom: Blooms in July through September, occassionally October.
Natural Distribution in Ohio:Found in most Ohio prairie areas, but not common in the Southwest Ohio Prairie Region.
Description and General Information: This interesting legume is often overlooked, as it grows as a low vine down among prairie grass and forb stems. It was a significant food source for Native Americans and early European settlers, as it has walnut-sized, very tasty and nutritious tubers. The species grows throughout the entire eastern half of North America, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, in both prairie and open forest habitats.
Efforts have been made to domesticate this wild legume, where plants with larger tubers would be grown, somewhat in the manner of potatoes. Because of its high protein content, it was a significant food for Native Americans. Settlers in early New England learned of the plant’s nutrition and availability and it provided vital food during famine years when corn crops failed.