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Montana Field Guides

Canadian Milkvetch - Astragalus canadensis

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5
C-value: 4

Agency Status


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General Description
Rhizomatous perennial. Herbage sparsely to densely strigose with dolabriform hairs. Stems erect, 15–60 cm. Leaves with 11 to 23, narrowly elliptic leaflets, 1–4 cm long with blunt to rounded tips; stipules lanceolate-attenuate, 5–10 mm long. Inflorescence longer than the leaves, crowded with 30 to 100 spreading to declined flowers. Flowers ochroleucus; calyx black- and/or white-strigose; sepals 2–4 mm long; banner12–15 mm long, becoming moderately reflexed; keel 8–12 mm long, sometimes purple-tipped. Legume erect, elliptic to cylindric, 9–15 mm long, crowded (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

In Montana we have varieties canadensis, brevidens (Gand.) Barneby, and mortonii (Nutt.) S. Watson.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Canadian Milkvetch - Astragalus canadensis
*Stems do not zigzag, 15-60 cm tall.
*Leaves have 11-23 narrowly elliptic leaflets.
*Leaf stipules are lanceolate-attenuate, 5-10 mm long.
*Flowers 30-100 spreading to declining in crowded racemes.

Wind River Milkvetch
Astragalus oreganus, SOC
*Stems zigzag. 10-20 cm tall.
*Leaves have 5-15 broadly elliptic to nearly round leaflets (obovate) with blunt to rounded tips, and 2-forked hairs (dolabriform).
*Leaf stipules form a papery sheath at the base of each petiole, completely surrounding the stem (connate), 5-10 mm long.
*Flowers are yellowish-white (ochroleucus), 15-40, crowded in racemes, and cylindrical.
*Flowering stems are barely longer than the leaves.

Low Milkvetch - Astragalus lotiflorus
*Leaves with 5–15 linear-elliptic leaflets with acute tips.
*Leaf stipules lanceolate, 2–5 mm long, and distinct.
*Flowers are arranged in almost sessile racemes with 2–8 spreading flowers.
*Flowering stems are shorter than the leaves.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
BC to QC south to CA, CO, TX, AR and VA (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 23

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Grasslands, steppe, open forest, thickets; plains, valleys, montane (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

The following animal species have been reported as pollinators of this plant species or its genus where their geographic ranges overlap: Bombus vagans, Bombus appositus, Bombus auricomus, Bombus bifarius, Bombus borealis, Bombus centralis, Bombus fervidus, Bombus flavifrons, Bombus huntii, Bombus mixtus, Bombus nevadensis, Bombus rufocinctus, Bombus ternarius, Bombus terricola, Bombus occidentalis, Bombus pensylvanicus, Bombus griseocollis, and Bombus insularis (Macior 1974, Thorp et al. 1983, Mayer et al. 2000, Colla and Dumesh 2010, Wilson et al. 2010, Koch et al. 2012, Miller-Struttmann and Galen 2014, Williams et al. 2014).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Colla, S.R. and S. Dumesh. 2010. The bumble bees of southern Ontario: notes on natural history and distribution. Journal of the Entomological Society of Ontario 141:39-68.
    • Koch, J., J. Strange, and P. Williams. 2012. Bumble bees of the western United States. Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service, Pollinator Partnership. 143 p.
    • Lesica, P., M.T. Lavin, and P.F. Stickney. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 771 p.
    • Macior, L.M. 1974. Pollination ecology of the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Melanderia 15: 1-59.
    • Mayer, D.F., E.R. Miliczky, B.F. Finnigan, and C.A. Johnson. 2000. The bee fauna (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) of southeastern Washington. Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia 97: 25-31.
    • Miller-Struttmann, N.E. and C. Galen. 2014. High-altitude multi-taskers: bumble bee food plant use broadens along an altitudinal productivity gradient. Oecologia 176:1033-1045.
    • Thorp, R.W., D.S. Horning, and L.L. Dunning. 1983. Bumble bees and cuckoo bumble bees of California (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Bulletin of the California Insect Survey 23:1-79.
    • Williams, P., R. Thorp, L. Richardson, and S. Colla. 2014. Bumble Bees of North America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 208 p.
    • Wilson, J.S., L.E. Wilson, L.D. Loftis, and T. Griswold. 2010. The montane bee fauna of north central Washington, USA, with floral associations. Western North American Naturalist 70(2): 198-207.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Cope, M.G. 1992. Distribution, habitat selection and survival of transplanted Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) in the Tobacco Valley, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, Montana: Montana State University. 60 p.
    • Jones, W. W. 1901. Preliminary flora of Gallatin County. M.S. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State College. 78 pp.
    • Quire, R.L. 2013. The sagebrush steppe of Montana and southeastern Idaho shows evidence of high native plant diversity, stability, and resistance to the detrimental effects of nonnative plant species. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 124 p.
    • Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p.
    • Seipel, T.F. 2006. Plant species diversity in the sagebrush steppe of Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 87 p.
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Citation for data on this website:
Canadian Milkvetch — Astragalus canadensis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from