Purple Prairie Clover Flower
Photo: Dr. John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers,

Purple Prairie Clover Flower Photo: Dr. John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers,

White Prairie Clover Flower
Photo: Dr. John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers,

White Prairie Clover Flower Photo: Dr. John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers,

Purple and White Prairie Clover fills Wheeler Park, and now is the time of it's best bloom! These are also good soils for Pale Purple Coneflower and Butterflyweed
Photo: TBeckjord

Purple and White Prairie Clover fills Wheeler Park, and now is the time of it's best bloom! These are also good soils for Pale Purple Coneflower and Butterflyweed Photo: TBeckjord

A perfect example of Purple Prairie Clover growing in a native garden in a sidewalk extension. It looks very happy with its location!
Photo: TBeckjord

A perfect example of Purple Prairie Clover growing in a native garden in a sidewalk extension. It looks very happy with its location! Photo: TBeckjord

Reikert's Blue Butterfly
Photo: Judy Gallagher

Reikert's Blue Butterfly Photo: Judy Gallagher

Southern Dogface Butterfly
Photo: David Reese

Southern Dogface Butterfly Photo: David Reese

Purple Prairie Clover

Dalea purpurea

I visited a very special prairie planting in Geneva yesterday. It can be found at the north end of Wheeler Park along Rte. 31. I drove past it for years without noticing it until a good friend happened to say it was his favorite little prairie. Now it’s become one of mine. Why? Well, it is a gravel prairie, re-created on an old gravel mining site. Because of this, the soils are unique and very dry and well-drained.

This is the perfect environment for one of my favorite native wildflowers (aren’t they all?), Purple Prairie Clover, and this little Wheeler Park Prairie is full of both this and the white species Dalea candida.

The Illinois Wildflowers website describes this species’ native habitat as including mesic to dry black soil prairies, gravel prairies, sand prairies, hill prairies, typical savannas and sandy savannas, limestone glades, and sandy hills or dunes near Lake Michigan. You can see why this species is perfect for the Wheeler Park location!

Purple Prairie Clover fixes nitrogen, needs full sun, and is not finicky about soil requirements as long as they are well-drained. These characteristics makes it a good selection for some challenging locations such as a sidewalk extension garden, an under-drained rain garden constructed with well-draining manufactured soils and even possibly parking lot islands. It also does well in my own garden with just standard soils. Pair it with Little Bluestem, Butterflyweed, Pale Purple Coneflower, Aromatic Aster and New Jersey Tea in these drier environments.

This native has a lovely vase-shaped habit and fine texture due to its small leaves and, at no more than 3’ tall (typically shorter), is a perfect addition to a residential garden. It blooms for a period of 1-1/12 months in early to mid-summer. Dalea will produce a good taproot, an adaptive mechanism according to it’s native habitats. It is a long-lived native species.

Dalea species support several specialist bee species of the genus Colletes and attract many more bee types such as bumblebees, cuckoo and leafcutter bees, plasterer and green metallic bees, skippers and smaller butterflies. Prairie Clovers are a host plant for the caterpillars of two butterflies, the Dogface Sulphur and Reakirt’s Blue as well as other native insects. This plant is eaten by mammalian herbivores but I have not seen my plants bothered by the rabbits on nearby lawns.

I hope you consider adding this great native to your garden if you don’t already have it!