Bundled Flower, Bundled Seeds

The plant known as Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis) derives its common name from its densely packed, somewhat frowzy puffball-like heads. Like the so-called powderpuff plant (Mimosa strigillosa), another member of the Fabaceae (pea family) which blooms with pink, ball-shaped flowers, bundleflower foliage is sensitive, wilting temporarily to control temperature and moisture levels and folding together when touched.

A nitrogen-fixing legume with a high protein content, the plant performs a dual service, enriching soils even as it provides nutrition for the birds, deer, antelope, and rodents that favor its seeds. Quite common across a large swath of the country, it thrives in a variety of soils and growing conditions.

While its flowers aren’t exactly show-stoppers, I’ve always found its seed pods compelling. Initially sickle-shaped, they provide their own sort of bloom as they open to release their seeds, remain intact well into winter, and make a lovely addition to dried arrangements.


Comments always are welcome.

52 thoughts on “Bundled Flower, Bundled Seeds

  1. It is a cause for rejoicing that we have plants that simultaneously enrich the soil by restoring nutrients, while providing high quality food for birds and other animals. I wonder how many such beneficial organisms have been ploughed under by the expansion of industrialized, chemical-based agriculture?

    1. One of the fine aspects of this plant is that it will establish easily, making it an excellent addition to prairie or land restoration. Because cattle find it palatable, it’s a good indicator of range quality as well. There even are studies exploring the possibility of domesticating the plant and making it viable as human food. Attractive and useful is a fine combination.

    1. I haven’t yet come across a pod that’s open, but with the seeds intact. It’s all a matter of timing. One of these days, I will, and my set will be complete.

      1. Wow, sort of bean-pod rose blossoms! Cool! And just as durable as Catalpa pods too, by the sound of it… (Took me years to discover they don’t actually split until Spring has well and truly arrived. perhaps that’s the case with your Bundled Flower seeds as well?

        1. No, they split and shed their seeds at the end of the growing season. They can bloom for several months, so the seeds are being produced for an equally long time, but by the end of our autumn (e.g., December) it seems they’ve all been eaten or fallen. It’s just that I haven’t found any at the right time.

    1. It sure does. So do peas, alfalfa, clover, common beans, and lentils, although I’m not very well versed in how much each provides. I’m sure the gardeners among us know more about that.

  2. I couldn’t find frowzy in any of my botanical glossaries. Maybe you should submit it to the appropriate botanical organization for acceptance as a new technical term. Why a plant would “choose” to produce seed pods all jumbled up that way has always been a mystery to me.

    The map you linked to seems to show Kansas rather than Illinois as the plant’s greatest stronghold. Let’s hope botanists in the latter state aren’t Illannoyed about it.

    1. Maybe we could do a two-fer, and submit both ‘frowzy’ and ‘innards.’ They’re such good words, but I suppose they’re not quite precise enough for a formal glossary.

      It is interesting that the buds of this one look like those of the powderpuff, even though they end so differently. Inexplicable as these seem, they do form a neat little package. There’s a nice photo on this Illinois wildflower site that shows the seeds still inside the pod.

      ‘Illannoyed’ is such a great word, I’m going to look for some way to use it.

      1. I’ve seen seeds inside open pods, as shown in that photograph. I noticed at the top of the article that the writer(s) put the bundleflower in the family Mimosaceae, which I’d not heard of. I’d always read that Illinois bundleflower is in the legume family, Fabaceae. When I checked, I learned that some botanists treat Mimosaceae as a separate family. It seems the majority, however, treat it as the group Mimosoideae within the larger Fabaceae.

  3. A great set of photos, Linda. I like seeing the evolution of a flower, start to finish. Is this flower small? I’m guessing it is, but I have no reference. Each season, after the first freeze and once my red yucca, frostweed and big muhly are in winter mode (translate: seed heads!) I pick a group of the three and put them in a vase. I’m not one much for flower arrangements in the house, but I like the three “dried” ones.

    1. The bloom is about an inch wide, and the seed heads I found are just a bit larger: but not much. The plant itself can reach as much as five feet high, although the ones I see usually are about 2-3′ tall. Mowing in spring might account for that. I like dried grasses and seedheads, too. Do you know, or did I ever mention, that a nice, cheap hairspray will keep grasses like little bluestem intact for years? I kept some for four years without it losing a bit of fluff; I only got rid of it when I moved.

      1. And just imagine, people put that stuff in their hair and near their faces!! I didn’t know that about the hair spray, but it’s interesting.

  4. I hadn’t heard “frowzy” in a long time, but it does fit the flower’s appearance. The seed pod is definitely non-frowzy. It reminds me of “The Ugly Duckling” tale, another thing I haven’t thought of for a long time.

    1. When I compared the dictionary definitions of ‘frowzy’ with my memory of how my mother and grandmother used it, they didn’t quite match. For them, it didn’t seem quite so negative. A sentence like “You’re looking frowzy this morning” roughly translated as “Young lady, go comb your hair and put on a decent shirt.”

      The seed pod certainly isn’t frowsy. The view from above makes it look like the work of a master chocolatier. Tasty!

  5. Not sure if I’ve run across one of these before, but it’s mighty interesting. I like that it serves a useful purpose as food and soil enricher. Your final photo, taken from above the plant, is delightful and gives a great illustration of the intricacy of the seed pod.

    1. Isn’t that structure something? There are a couple of photos in the middle of this page that show the pods with the seeds still inside. They’re just so appealing; sometimes the structure of a plant rivals even its color.

      As a side note, I thought about you and Domer when I heard that Lou Holtz had been awarded the Medal of Freedom. I suspect you were pleased.

    1. It’s certainly the sort of plant that Southern Exposure could use. The seed pods are not only visually interesting, they’ll stay in good shape for months. They’d be great in wreaths, arrangements, and such.

    1. It’s really cool, isn’t it? I suspect you must have these in your neighborhood. I’ve found them along 71 between El Campo and Alt90, and on some of the back roads east of there. One of those pods in glass would be a knockout.

  6. I’ve been recently rereading the Harry Potter books, and this looks like one of the magical plants they might study in “herbology class.”

    1. There’s another reason they might have studied it. Look what I found on the Wiki page: “The root bark [of the bundleflower] is mixed with a native source of beta-Carbolines (e.g., passion flower in North America) to produce a hallucinogenic drink called prairiehuasca, which is an analog of the shamanic brew ayahuasca.”

      I looked up ayahuasca, and I think I’ll stick with coffee, thank you very much.

    1. I was surprised to find that the bundleflower has almost as much protein content as soybeans. It’s really quite nutritious, helps to restore land, can help to control erosion, and is pretty, as well. The plant as a whole is as well-rounded as its flower. I do think someone should replicate those seed pods in chocolate — can’t you imagine them decorating a cake?

    1. M. strigillosa is common here, but M. pudica hardly exists in the U.S. It took me a while to find this plant in flower. When I first noticed the seed heads, it was fall, and I had to wait several months before they began to flower again. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing this ‘fringe relative’ of your flowers.

    1. It seems to me that the seed heads make a better bundle than the flowers, but the name certainly captures both aspects of the plant’s development. The crescent shape is especially interesting, and the way it unfolds is even more intriguing.

  7. Interesting plant! Boy in the middle shot, it’s really clenched like a fist. The last one, as you said, does look like a fancy chocolate confection.
    One of my grandmothers used to grow stattice, strawflowers, etc. and sold the dried bouquets in shops and garden stores. Sometimes she’d add interesting seed pods, I think some were from honey locust trees, sweet gum, etc. but I remember thinking they were the most interesting part of the assemblage.

    1. I didn’t see the fist, but I did see the two lower, horizontal pieces of pod as the claws of a crab or crayfish, holding that other bit of pod like prey.

      The fondness for dried leaves, pods, and grasses seems almost universal. I suspect part of the appeal is their durability, and part may be their inherent structural appeal. I still have some red dogwood branches I plucked from a Minnesota ditch in 2011 — and they’re still red. Amazing.

    1. I especially like the contrast between the light, ferny fronds and the far more substantial seed pods. Fronds will come and fronds will go, but pods are –well, not forever, but quite a bit longer.

    1. It’s clear that plants are more ‘alive’ than we often think, at least in terms of their ability to respond to their environment. I love touching the leaves of this one — they fold up fast!

    1. It goes through so many stages. The buds look like those of button bush, the flowers resemble the various mimosas, and the seed pods don’t resemble anything else that I can think of. Because the pods linger so long, they are easy to spot at this time of year, when so much foliage is dying back.

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