Deerweed

Deerweed © DSchiel

California Broom
Acmispon glaber var. glaber
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Pea / Legume Family (Fabaceae)
    • Small deciduous shrub
    • Stems
      • Slender, green, and generally erect
      • Numerous and branching, giving a bushy look
      • Woody at base
    • Leaves
      • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
      • Each leaf is compound, with 3-6 oval leaflets
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) a group of 2-7 flowers, growing from the upper leaf axils
      • Characteristic Pea / Legume family flower is bilaterally-symmetric with a banner, wings, and keel
      • Yellow color ages to orange and red once pollinated (Ritter 2018)
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit is a pod, about 0.8 in. long, with a curved tip, with 2 seeds
    • Height to 20 in.

    Distribution

      • Native to California
        • Commonly in chaparral, coastal sand, and coastal sage scrub
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside California, grows in Baja California, Mexico
      • Grows at elevations to 5,000 ft.
      Pea Flower

      Uses (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Important food resource for a variety of wildlife
          • Provides valuable forage for deer, especially in drought years or after fire (US Forest Service 2017)
          • Flowers and seeds are eaten by many insects, birds, and rodents
          • Hummingbirds, bees, and other insects collect nectar
          • Host plant for the larvae of orange sulfur (Collas eurytheme), bramble green hairstreak (Callophrys perplexa viridis), and acmon blue (Plebejus acmon) butterflies
        • Native people used deerweed in a variety of ways
          • Decoction of foliage used for coughs
          • Infusion of plant taken to support blood formation
          • Roots used for soap
          • Twigs used for making brushes
          • Foliage used for house thatching and construction

        Name Derivation

          • Acmispon (ak-MIS-pon) – presumably from the Greek acme, “point” or “edge,” referring to the hook on the end of the fruit pod
          • glaber (GLAY-ber) – Latin for “hairless”
          • Deerweed – deer like to strip the leaves from the stem (Heiple 2020)
          • California Broom – stems, especially when leafless, resemble those of several Old World shrubs in the Pea / Legume family (e.g. French and Scotch broom) traditionally used to make brooms (Ritter 2018)

          Notes

            • Like almost all members of its family, deerweed fixes nitrogen; see Pea / Legume family for more details
            • Drought-deciduous as well as winter-deciduous
              • Sheds leaves during the summer to conserve water
              • Plant stems are green, so deerweed can continue photosynthesis when leafless
            • Pioneer species: takes advantage of newly-opened spaces following a fire or other disturbance
              • Seed pods do not split open, but lie dormant until a fire or mechanical disturbance scarifies the hard seed coat and stimulates germination (US Forest Service 2017)
              • Can quickly dominate areas in years following a fire (Bryant)
              • Mature plants do not compete well with other species and in 5-10 years will be replaced by pre-fire shrubs (Bryant)
            • Flowers change color with age, probably telling pollinators whether a specific flower is worth visiting for nectar. The fading oranges and reds of the aging blossom may signal, “I’m done; don’t bother.” Flowers from more than 70 plant families use color changes to direct pollinators (Weiss 1991)
            • Taxonomists recently reclassified deerweed, along with other North American plants formerly in the genus Lotus
              • DNA analysis showed that New World Lotus species were distinct from Old World species
                • Native plants at Edgewood previously in the genus Lotus are now in the genus Acmispon
                • Non-native bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is the only remaining Edgewood plant in the genus Lotus
            • Edgewood’s deerweed is classified as a variety
              • Subspecies rank is used to recognize geographic distinctiveness, whereas variety rank is appropriate for variants seen throughout the geographic range of the species; in practice, these two ranks are not distinct

            At Edgewood

              • Found in chaparral and open woodlands
                • Easily seen in open areas of the Ridgeview trail
                • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
                  • Note observations are for Acmispon glaber
              • Flowers May – October

              See General References

              Specific References

                Bryant, P.J. Common Deerweed (California broom), Acmispon glaber. Natural History of Orange County California. School of Biological Sciences, University of California, Irvine.

                  Heiple, P. 2020, Jan. 25. Personal communication.

                    Ritter, M. 2018. California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora. Pacific Street Publishing, San Luis Obispo, California.

                      San Diego Natural History Museum. 2006. Checklist of the Vascular Plants of San Diego County: 5th Edition Changes from the 4th Edition, Changes in Family, Genera, and Species Names. San Diego County Plant Atlas.

                        Spears, P. 2013, Dec. Outline of angiosperm phylogeny: orders, families, and representative genera with emphasis on Oregon native plants. NPSO – Native Plant Society of Oregon.

                          US Forest Service. 2017. Acmispon glaber (Vogel) Brouillet. Pacific Southwest Research Station. USDA.

                            Weiss, M. 1991, Nov. 21. Floral color changes as cues for pollinators. Nature, vol. 354, pp. 227-29.

                              Wilson, B. 2012. Lotus scoparius, Deerweed. Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery.