Did drought make crispy chips of your perennials last year? This summer, fight fire with fire. Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), a North American perennial that shoots out fiery purple-pink bloom spikes from early June to September, is adapted to dry sites open to the blazing sun. Its deep taproot—often 5 or 6 feet long—allows it to thrive in conditions that would fry your average garden flower. Butterflies and bees like the flowers, and neighboring plants benefit from the nitrogen that this legume fixes in the soil. It’s found in the wild from Canada to Texas.
Common name: Purple prairie clover
Botanical name: Dalea purpurea
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 1 to 3 feet
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Prefers average, well-drained soil, but tolerates both sand and clay.
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to rust.
• Under the right conditions, purple prairie clover will reseed, but it’s not a bully.
• Purple prairie clover is small, so plant it where it won’t be overwhelmed by tall perennials. Good companions include butterfly weed, dianthus, mountain mint, and little bluestem.
• Use it in rock gardens, prairie gardens, or perennial beds.
• Leave seed heads on through the winter.
All in the family
• The Fabaceae, or legume family, is one of the largest families of flowering plants. There are more than 19,000 species in the family. Some legumes that might be in your garden already are beans, peas, lupines, and sweet peas. Some that might be in your kitchen are lentils, edamame (soybeans), and peanuts. Some that you probably hope aren’t in your garden are clover and kudzu.
Where to buy
• Great Basin Natives, Holden, UT, 435-795-2303, www.greatbasinnatives.com.
• The Prairie Flower, Spencer, IA, 712-262-5864, www.theprairieflower.com.
• Shooting Star Nursery, Georgetown, KY, 866-405-7979, www.shootingstarnursery.com.
(Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)