It is a magician but with flowers, stems and roots. It can pollinate itself. But we seldom are excited with pollination, it is out of sight, but it’s still magical. It reaches above earth from ½ to over a meter in height. Not a giant, but perfectly tall enough in a prairie. Its delicate leaves are light and touch sensitive. They enfold at a touch or change in light-yes-magical. Its white flowers are spherical. They resemble something other worldly. In a sense, they are.
Our plant magician is the Illinois BundleFlower (Desmanthus illinoensis). It is also called False sensitive plant. The BundleFlower is significantly better than a magician. Magicians use sleight of hand and illusion to conduct their “magic”. The Illinois BundleFlower is the real thing.
It is a highly nutritious plant. It is palatable to all classes of livestock, deer and pronghorn antelope. The Eastern Cottontail that lives in our prairie garden likes it also, but not with the cayenne pepper I sprinkle on the leaves. The seeds of BundleFlower are eagerly eaten by birds and rodents. The protein content of BundleFlower seed is 38%, this nearly equals the 40% protein found in soybeans. In documents published by the USDA, this native plant is considered one of the most important native prairie legumes.
BundleFlower grows in much of the central to eastern United States. It ranges southward from South Dakota and Minnesota through Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and eastward to Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas and into Florida.
My guess is-you’ve never seen it before. In more than 6 decades of walking pastures and prairies, my eyes had never seen even one Illinois BundleFlower. In the fall of 2015 my hands touched its seed pods. We gathered them, saved them and propagated them in a greenhouse. The photos you see are of BundleFlower growing in our prairie garden from that seed. Call me a geek, or a bore if you wish. Having Illinois BundleFlower growing in my backyard is a special thrill. We do not see these plants because most of the North American prairie is now at work doing another task: producing food for America.
It is also most likely that as you have now read this far the skeptic in you has been saying, magician? This is no biggie, it’s just a plant! Been waiting for you to say that. It’s time for just little science. We know that oxygen comes from the air we breathe. Many of us know that the earth’s atmosphere contains more than oxygen. Gasses in the blend we breathe are:
Remember a few sentences ago we said BundleFlower is one of the most important native prairie legumes? Being a legume means the BundleFlower during the process of photosynthesis can transfer nitrogen from the air into plant ready fertilizer-in the soil. Explained another way: BundleFlower can transfer the nitrogen in the air into the soil. It becomes fertilizer plants can use-and it is all natural.
My current guess is you are thinking, “is that all you’ve got?” Stop, consider what was said. BundleFlower can change a gas in the air to a solid fertilizer in the soil that all plants benefit from. It’s actually a miracle, not magic.
We live in an amazing world. There are always new things to discover. There are always surprises to delight us. The Illinois BundleFlower is a special delight. What discoveries could you make by stepping out your door? What things in nature could fill you with delight? They are out there, go outside.