A herbaceous perennial with showy, plumelike, white flower clusters. Male and female flowers are on separate plants, in open panicles with very small, 5-petaled flowers. Male flowers have noticeable stamens. Flowers white or cream-colored, turning tan with age. Blooms May–July. Leaves are nearly 2 feet long, compound, the leaflets in threes or fives, both lateral and terminal on long stems; leaflets are oblong, sharply pointed, finely toothed with very short stems.
Height: to 5 feet.
Where To Find
Central, southern, and eastern parts of the state (the southeastern half), excluding the Bootheel.
Occurs in rich soils in low woods and north-facing slopes, bases of bluffs, and other moist places. There are several unrelated plants in Missouri called goat’s beard. At first glance, it might be hard to see how this plant can be in the rose family, but the pinnately compound leaves with toothed leaflets are one clue. Then, if you use a hand lens, you can see that each flower possesses the family characteristics, too.
This native plant, with its showy plumes of flowers and yellow fall foliage, is a fine landscaping subject if planted in humus-rich soil in shade. Special, even showier cultivars are available for gardening. This plant had several historic medicinal uses among Native Americans and white settlers.
This is the only food plant for caterpillars of the slate-gray azure butterfly (Celastrina ebenina), which lives in shaded forests in the eastern Ozarks. The larvae are bluish green with yellow lateral lines and scattered yellowish-white dots. This butterfly is only found where goat’s beard grows.
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About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!