About Lead Plant: A member of the legume family, Lead Plant has the distinction of being one of the only native prairie shrubs. Its unusual name can be traced to the old belief that its presence showed that the soil contained lead. Once established, Lead Plant lasts for generations; it can be found growing wild throughout the Great Plains regions of central North America. Lead Plant's extremely deep and extensive root system gives it good resistance to drought, prairie fire, high wind, and frost. Though ranchers appreciated it for being excellent cattle fodder, settlers found that its roots would become tangled on their plowshares; this trait earned it the nickname "Devil's Shoestring." Native American tribes used this plant both internally and externally, valuing it for its antibacterial effect.
Lead Plant Germination: For best germination, Lead Plant seed should be stratified and scarified. This can be accomplished by pouring 180 degrees F water over the seed, soaking it overnight, and direct sowing it in the fall. For spring sowing, mix the seed with an equal amount of sand and store it in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks, then soak it overnight and direct sow after the last frost. Lead Plant grows best in dry or well drained soil and full sun, though it adapts to partial shade. To start the seed indoors, sow it just below the surface of a flat; keep the soil evenly moist and at a temperature of 70 degrees F. Germination should take place within 20-30 days. Thin or space the seedlings to 15-18" apart as soon as they are big enough to handle safely.
Growing Lead Plant Seeds: Lead Plant grows very slowly because of the development of its extensive root system, which can grow up to 4 feet in length; flowers may not develop until the third year of its growth. Plants should be watered deeply every few weeks for the best growth, though they do survive drought conditions well and tolerate high winds. Pruning the plant back to 12" in late fall will produce healthy growth in its next season. Though this variety may spread by self-seeding, germination and development will be slow and not invasive. Lead Plant tends to die back to the ground in the winter, coming back every spring. Watch out for deer, rabbits, and rodents, since they may damage the plant's growth. This plant attracts butterflies and bees.
Harvesting Lead Plant: Lead Plant makes an unusual, striking cut flower. Cut the stems as soon as the flower spikes begin to bloom.
Saving Lead Plant Seeds: The purple flower spikes will change color and develop mature seed in late summer or early fall. Strip the tiny seed pods from the stem and spread them out to dry away from direct sunlight. The seeds can be planted with the hull intact, since this does not prevent them from germinating. Store them in a cool, dry place.
Detailed Lead Plant Info: Origin: US Native Other Common Names: Prairie Shoestring, Wild Tea, Downy Indigobush Duration: Perennial Bloom Time: Summer Height: 24-36 inches Spacing: 15-18 inches Light: Full Sun to Part Shade Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry USDA Zone: 2a-9b Seeds Per Oz: 16,500 Produces a shrub-like plant with many tiny leaflets on each stem, and 4-8" purple flower spikes with reddish orange stamens.