Notes on the number and distribution of native legumes in Nebraska and Kansas

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Notes on the number and distribution of native legumes in Nebraska and Kansas
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Warren, Joseph Allen
United States -- Dept. of Agriculture
United States -- Bureau of Plant Industry
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G.P.O. ( Washington, D.C )
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U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
BI'REAU (OF PLANT INl1TST'Y-Cicuilar No. :;1.
IlT. .AI AYX\A X chiiie of Bure;au




NOTES ON THE Nl'. 4A"S:"
Nur1sUNrFI, 1TILI NTI) I)ISTI'IUIWI'I( )N

OF NATIVE l EI'.UMES IN NEIiRASKA

ANID KANSAS.




i'\

JOSEPH ALLEN \WAIIHEN.
ASSISTANT A1(i ri/LIU'RIST, (OFFICI:E or FARM I XANA<;.I:mENT.



[B'r. .;1


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BUI'EAU OF PLANT INDUSTRY.



(C hief of IBuria,. BEVERLY T. (6ALLONVAY.
A-ssistat (Chirf of BLutreau, AI. ERT F. WOODs.
Editor, J. E. Rockwell.
(Chief Clerk. James E. .,ones.
Cir. S31]
2








B I'. I.-T70


NOTES ()N TIlE N MBEII R ANI) I)ISTRIB TI()ON
1 N xTIVIE LEGUMES IN NEBIRASKA
ANI) KANSAS.


INTRODUCTION.
many hypotheses have been forumn,, to account for the 1 -. stores of
niitrogen in virgin soils, but none of these have been entirely satisfac-
tory. It seems to he a well-estahlished fact that small quantities of
ammonia are collected from tihe air by rain and ad(lded to the soil: also,
that more or less nitric acid is formed by electrical discharges and
added to the supply. Some investigators have attributed the fixation
of nii ,,.',ii entirely to tlie latter cause. lRcently a number of efforts
have been made to show that ii.mi-' x ,1iotic or independent bacteria are
the chief agents in ;\in this element. \Vhile it seems certain that
some nitrogen is added to thlie soil by each of these methods, it appears
to the writer that there is not sufficient evidence to warrant a conclu-
sion that any one of them has been the most important factor in this
work. They do not furnish a satisfactory explanation of the presence
of such large quantities of nitrogen in the soil.
NITROGEN FIXATION IN SOIL BY WILD LEGUMES.
Several experimenters have zu-'., -ted that wild l-2ii1 ni, may 1 have
played some part in this wov)rk. but they have not generally been con-
sidered as important factors. The studies reported in this c'ircular indi-
cate that this subi., t deserves more thorough investigation than it lias
yet received and that native Ivt.,,ii- have been of nimuch more impor-
tance in this r6le than has been thought.
Several years ,,', the writer raised thlie question whether the native
1, Ui,,, s of thie prairies were sufficiently numerous to have lixed thlie
amount of nitr-'--ii present. A search for published data on the sub-
ject was made. ibut none were found. Accordiniigly, in the -priliJ of
190.^ a series of inv, -tigations was I1.z11, a preliminary report of wihichl
is here given.
DIFFICULTY OF MAKING INVESTIGATION.
Many ditliculties were experienced in collecting thie desired data.
Not many tracts of virgin prairie remain in eastern Nelraska and north-
eastern Kansas. except on land that iq too wet (r too :..J.g, or stonv to
be easily farmed. Furthermore, nmost of the grass plots that do remain
have been pastured so much that few 1 ,_'ilmes are lehft. It was therle-
tc'ir :i :






NATIVE LEGUMES OF NEBRASKA AND KANSAS.


fore necessary to search out the grass fields that had been pastured the
least and which at the same time represented as nearly as possible the
a'.',:, farm lands of the region.
The next difficulty arose in the fact that the growing season of the
different species is very different. Some species of the genus Astra-
galus, for example, are in fruit by May and often dead before July.
Lotus does not come up until late, and the Psoraleas do not all show
their sprouts until about the middle or end of Mny, :and by the first of
Ai_,iu:-t they begin to break off just below the surface of the soil and to
blow away. Other species are not readily r,,i ,n,,ii/,:ble till late in the
season. From this it will be seen that anyone making counts will sel-
dom find all the legumes at any one time.
A third difficulty presented itself in the irregular distribution of the
plants. It was not easy to find areas that represented av,-r ,e con-
ditions. Not only was there a natural source of error here but a per-
sonal one also. Having selected a piece of land that fairly represented
a certain soil and slope it was then necessary to select the plots to be
counted. Here the personal equation appeared. With the amount of
time available it was not feasible to count large areas, so the square
yard was selected as the unit. If a patch contains showy legumes one
is almost sure to select plots that either have none of these plants or
have an unusual number. To avoid this unintentional selection the
foll," inw methods were employed. With eyes closed the writer would
walk a certain number of steps which would take him to a point he knew
he had not seen. For example, he determined to walk 100 paces south
and take his hundredth heel mark as the northwest corner of his first
-1lu:1re yard, or he walked backwards to a point he had not seen and
marked the plot to be counted in the same way. Either of these methods
gave him square yards selected purely at random. It was not practical
to use the English method of throwing a hoop, and even if this could
have been done it is doubtful if any advantage would have been gained
thereby.
With many legumes, especially Ainirph;i: (shoe-string), Kuhnistera
(prairie clover), and several of the Psoraleas (in some places called
wild alfalfa), it is often impossible to tell whether there is one large
plant or several plants grouped together. In cases where there was
much doubt the group was always considered as a -.iigle plant.
For thle reason stated it is plain that the counts given in the follow-
ing table must be under rather than over the real number of le-guines
present on the plots counted. It should also be noted that several of
the counts were made before the legumes had all come up. It was
hoped that several times as much data could be collected during the
year, but the difficulties mentioned, together with the fact that much
of the season had to be spent in the semiarid region, limited the work
1,0,tly.
lCir. :1i








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    NATIVE LEGUMES OF NEBRASKA AND KANSAS.


    That part of Table I referring to the country east of 1000 west longi-
    tude is believed to be fairly representative of average conditions. The
    parts referring to the high plains and the sand hills are so meager as to
    be only Lig,.ti\-. The counts made on the high plains were all at
    the eastern border and were either on loess or at the transition from
    that to the tertiary. Farther west many observations were made, but
    legumes are much fewer, and the ( iiiitiii., of much larger areas would
    have been necessary to get results at all reliable. Here, too, the desic-
    cation of many plants in the summer makes it very difficult to secure
    accurate counts.

    LEGUMES FORM A LARGE PART OF OUR NATIVE FLORA.

    The writer had long been familiar with the flora of this region but
    was not at all prepared for such results as are shown in the table.
    After the grasses (including sedges) and possibly the composites, leg-
    umes form a larger part of our flora than does any other group of plants.
    If these figures are representative or anywhere near it, it is evident
    that our farm lands from time immemorial have been growing a full
    stand of legumes. Seventeen plants to the square yard are enough to
    fill all the soil with their roots. Most of these plants, such as A niirphla,
    Kuhnistera, and Psoralea, have enormous root systems (and these genera
    represent the large majority of the prairie legiiuj.-). A single plant is
    often sufficient to fill the soil with its roots for a radius of several feet,
    as any farmer who has plowed up Amorpha is ready to testify. The
    smallest root systems are probably those of Vicia and Lotus, and yet
    seventeen of these to the square yard would seem to be sufficient to
    g.tht-r a large supply of nitrogen.

    NODULES ABUNDANT IN WILD LEGUMES.

    Many examinations were made to ascertain the prevalence of nodules
    upon different species. Large numbers of tubercles were found on every
    species examined and on nearly every individual, except mature Kuh-
    nistera. Nodules are especially plentiful on Psoralca, Astragalus, .\.iu:n1,
    Meibomia, and Lotus. On Lotus the nodules are often almost massed
    together on the taproot. Some difficulty was experienced at first in
    finding tubercles on Kuhnistera, but they are always in evidence on
    seedlings. On the old plants there is doubt whether typical nodules
    are produced or whether the bacteria are in the small, thickened roots
    which occur in extraordinary numbers, almost in fasicles, especially on
    roots of the previous year's growth. During the cinjin.g season an
    effort will be made to determine this point. The efficiency of these
    ,., ,- as iitig .-n gatherers does not seem open to question, however,
    if the universal inoculation of the -,.-dliijg plants is considered.
    [Cir. :1]






    NATIVE I:, i I-':S ()F N1:1FIIASKA\ AN I) ANAS.


    FACTORS INFLUENCING THE DISTRIBUTION OF WILD LEGUMES.

    The distribution and aibunditce of legumes are influenced Iy many
    factors, one of the most marked of which is the adaptability of the
    locality for the production of heavy crops of grass. Few legumes canI
    compete with a 1loit' growth of grass. Where .A ,ii ....'. fi r'ctto
    (bIluestem) luxuriates, few 1, .- except lPsoralea seem to be alle to
    persist.
    On the densest swards of BINlbi/is hlaclyloidr's (buffla o grass), Vicia.
    PIsoralea, Lotus, and Astragalus are occasional habitants, but none iof
    them are able to constitute a very large proportion of tlie plant growth.
    On poor soils and slopes where thlie grass is thin. both thle Inumtber of
    individuals and the number of species of 1,-2,,Iimious plantss are usually
    _',..it, r than on rich soils and level tracts, and 1, .',n, consequently form
    a very much larger proportion of the lontra. But on all soils and in all
    climates of the region. ,i.ii,- peculiarly adapted to thlie conditions are
    present in large numbers.
    In many of the meadows in the river valleys of Iowa, South DIakota.
    and northeastern Nebraska, Cro/olaria s.gitlalis covers most of the
    ground. On level sand beds near streams Acuan grows in profusion.
    and on thinly grassed sandy bottoms ('fssia ch'Imaie'rista (partridge
    pea) is often abundant. O )n 1many low sand hills Psoralea is al most
    the only habitant, whiile on the tops of san(l hills where there is little
    vegetation PJhIcan Iogifflia is pi i.,ri 1 _the way for more plant growth,
    and is often assisted in this work by Kuh'tjtis er rillosa and several
    other species.

    LEGUMES ARE CROWDED OUT ON THE RICHEST SOILS.

    It does not seem that most of these l-2,11 'iii choose the poorer soils,
    for, in 1'.i, t. many of then grow much better on rich soil, but when the
    soil becomes rich in nitrogen and humus other plants which d) not
    thrive on poor soil are a:ible to (crowd out the legumes. There is '....
    reason to believe that lands that are now richest formerly supl)ported tite
    densest leguminous growths, except, perhaps, where the fertility hlias
    been wa.shied down from 1lI,' i levels.

    NUMBER OF GENERA AND SPECIES IN DIFFERENT LOCALITIES.

    While thie Inumber aind distribution of individuals on arable land>,
    and not the number and dlistrihution of genera anlt species in the Statt.,
    is the important factor for our .-;i ...... yet this latter (question deserves
    mention. Pound and ('Clements:' give 23 -, i i and 10:) species of
    1,', .i.-. as occurriii;, in Nebtraska. There are 2:1 of the species chara'c-
    terized as inihabitmits of low prairies and mte'adows, which nc(smtitute
    most of the farm lands. :'; of high prairies, saIndv ,luts and sand hills.


    SI'hvto..eo-rapiv 'of Ne ra-ska, p. 2-10.


    C('ir. ;i1






    NATIVE LEiUMES OF NEBRASKA AND KANSAS.


    and 16 of western table-lands and foothills. Only a few of these are
    abundant and widely distributed.
    Of the 1,022 plants included in the table of legumes east of 100, 340
    are Kuhnistera, 333 Psoralea, 185 Amorpha, 77 Vicia, 67 Lotus, 12
    Astragalus, 4 Lespedeza, 3 Ara._'.llu.i-, and 1 Baptisia.
    With the possible exception of Astragalus, Psoralea is the most
    widely and evenly distributed genus in the State and has probably been
    the most effective in fertilizing the soils, closely followed by Kuhnis-
    tera and Amorpha, while A-tr.iL'.ilis has been an important factor in all
    localities. Astrugalus crassicarpus (ground plum) was formerly so
    abundant as to tinge whole prairies with the color of its flowers, but is
    now almost extinct in many sections. In much of the western half of
    the region Lotus has been very important.

    VALUE OF LEGUMES IN PASTURES.

    The value of the native 1,"_',iie- lies not alone in their ability to store
    nitrogen in the soil, but in their feed value also. Live stock always do
    better in new pastures than in old ones unless tame grasses have come
    in. It seems fair to assume that this difference is partly due to the
    greater portion of leguminous forage plants in the new pasture, giving
    a better balanced ration.
    Many of the legumes are so ravenously eaten by stock as to be exter-
    minated in a short time. Astragalus crassicutrp{s is one of the first to
    disappear. Cattle do not seem to relish Psoralea and Kuhnistera in
    new pastures, but after the more i,;.lit;aic legumes are gone these, too,
    are eaten and disappear, although their vigorous root systems enable
    them to endure a long time. So far as the writer is aware, Baptisia
    brwacte(ta (false ini,_.', lead plant) is the only native legume that is
    able to maintain itself in pastures. This does not seem to be eaten by
    stock, for it thrives in pastures even where feed is scarce.

    LESSON OF THE PRAIRIE LEGUME FOR THE FARMER.

    Western farmers have been slow to learn their lesson from nature.
    Nature on her farm has kept up the production of grasses and other
    nitrogen robbers by the constant growth of legumes. If this fact had
    been rec',.i.,''l1 sooner perhaps there would not have been such reck-
    less exploitation of the rich soils of the Mississippi Basin. For forty
    years farmers have lost sight of this and have taken off grain crops (all
    grasses) continuously and doubted if this practice would ever exhaust
    their soils, because they were still productive after the removal of
    twenty, thirty, or forty crops. But now the effect is evident; farmers
    must learn from the prairies around them one of the first principles of
    permanent agriculture and introduce Lt-u.riimini-' crops into the farm
    rotation.
    S('ir. :i1 I







    N AII\ L 1.1 ~L ME-~ ii' N i;ni~ \~R \ AN ii i~. \N" \-~.


    WILD LEGUMES IN THE EASTERN UNITED STATES.

    After this paper was prepared the writer's attention was called to
    Bulletin No. 100( of the Marvyland Agricuiltural E'xpf)eriment Station, the
    pertinent parts of which are quoted below. It was a surprise tin li
    such close .br,.,.itl betweell observations mIade in two States where
    conditions arc so different.
    The wild plant- of this kind (legumesi,, next to gras-ses and composites, form
    a larger p)art of Orl' native llora than anll other famil vof pIlant-. t si ThIir
    protein content is usually high and they al-o tlwn maker moust useful feeding;
    -ni,-. ('. 9r7.)
    I'ractically all olf tie wild Marvland specic examined have tiubercle- on the
    roots. (P'. R100.
    But when we con-ider thie large areas of uncultivated land in Mary land wlwrom
    no crop is or will he Ir..', i: u der present conditions, thle value of iild legulne-
    inll building uip such land by adding hit I II- arId I nitrogen becorie's mIchi morite
    )wrthv of consileration, especially if wr rerienilier thie fact thiat ro-t of our
    waste woodland and fihldts are covered within a natural growth of leguminimus
    plants di,]x- their work without a particle of labor (on tlie part of tlie ow er.
    Iin mianiv thousand acres of w aste land over one-half of tile weed growl is
    conrposed of rilt. r.*-..ilh. ring legumiinous plans. g A great i:Inv of
    these species grow x\ith tire greatest case on dry, sandy, or sterile land \\ here
    other plants would ni ot succeed until ._n,-- had ,i,. i,,.d tihe \\*a (I'. lo).
    I g,w;ii,,- of some kind are in every climate and soil. In mrany parts of M:ai-
    land legumes forrim one-fourth to three-fourths of thie hild plant-s. (1'. I,.

    Approved
    JA.MIES W\ISON,
    Secretary ui Agriltul r,.

    WVASIIINGTON, D. ('., April 23, 1 'ii
    I Cir : 1



















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