Canadian Milkvetch (Canadensis)

The Canadian Milkvetch (Canadensis) is generally described as a perennial forb/herb. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer and fall . The Canadian Milkvetch (Canadensis) has green foliage and inconspicuous white flowers, with a smattering of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Canadian Milkvetch (Canadensis) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate.

The Canadian Milkvetch (Canadensis) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Erosion control, forage quality, wetland restoration/enhancement, and wildlife habitat benefits.

General Characteristics

Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) is a perennial legume with underground rhizomes. Plants of this species may be large and robust once established, with plant height ranging from 12 to 40 inches. The leaves are odd-pinnately compound; leaflets are medium green, 1 to 4 cm long, and 5 to 15 mm wide. Generally, they are smooth or slightly hairy on the upper surface with stiff, short hairs on the underside.

The flowers are creamy, greenish white and about 1/2 to 3/4 inch long in a dense spike-like head.

Flowering occurs from May to August. The pods contain several seeds that are small, smooth, and brownish yellow-green.

Required Growing Conditions

Canadian milkvetch is a native legume that is widely distributed across all but the extreme southeastern and southwestern United States. It is found naturally in moist prairies, open woodlands, roadsides, thickets, and streambanks. Plants tend to colonize in these areas.

Cultivation and Care

Site: Canadian milkvetch prefers moist sites. It is adapted to a wide range of soil types and conditions. However, it is NOT recommended for dry uplands.Rate of Seeding: Planting Canadian milkvetch as part of a native grass/forb mix (preferably as a sculptured seeding on an adapted site) is recommended. The number of seeds/lb varies, but averages 266,000 to 275,000 seeds/lb. Planting 1/10 to 1/4 PLS lb/ac as part of a mix should produce adequate densities. When higher densities are desired, such as along streambank corridors, 1 to 2 PLS lb/ac is recommended.Date of Seeding: Spring seeding should be done prior to May 15; dormant seeding after October 20. Seed should be mechanically scarified to break down dormancy due to hard seed coat. It is also desirable to inoculate seed with species-specific rhizobium for nitrogen fixing. Plant seed shallow at a depth of 1/2 to 3/4 inches into a firm seedbed. The preferred planting method is to use the legume box of a grass seed drill for the Canadian milkvetch seed. Low rates of seed may need to be mixed with filler material for better seed distribution. The second method of choice is to mix the Canadian milkvetch seed with the other native species in one of the other seed boxes. If seed settles to the bottom of the box, it should be added in frequent intervals rather than all at once. If conditions do not permit the use of a drill, double the seeding rate, broadcast the seed, and cover lightly by harrowing.

General Upkeep and Control

Longevity of Canadian milkvetch is short, generally 3 to 4 years. Persistence may be enhanced by mowing or grazing to prevent seed formation. Plants may also be improved by phosphorous or potassium fertilizer. The plant is palatable to livestock and deer and is highly nutritious at certain times of the growing season.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) ‘Sunrise’ was released in 1997 by Dr. Arvid Boe from South Dakota State University and the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. It was exclusively released to Norfarm Seeds, Inc. in Roseau, Minnesota.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Forb/herb
Growth Period Spring, Summer, Fall
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Stoloniferous
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 0.5
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Low
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 10
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Moderate
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–8 pH
Precipitation Range 20–20 inches/yr
Planting Density 0–0 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 10
Minimum Frost-Free Days 175 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA