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Groundnut Apios americana


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Groundnut - flower
credit: Frank Mayfield/CCSA

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Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description Climbing vine with maroon or reddish-brown pea-like flowers in compact racemes arising from leaf axils.
Habit: native, annual or perennial, vine or herb; twining; rhizomatous.
Height: stems to 13 ft (4 m) long.
Leaf: alternate, pinnately compound, 3-6 in (7.5-15 cm) long; 5-7 leaflets, lanceolate to ovate, pointed, to 3 in (7.5 cm) long.
Flower: pink to red-brown to purple, 4-lobed, to 0.7 in (17 mm) long; held in dense terminal spike.
Fruit: large pod, 2.5-5 in (6-12 cm) long.

Flower July to September.

Habitat Wet to moist: low woods, stream banks, thickets, meadows, shore lines, sloughs.

Range Native to eastern and central North America, from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and New England, south to Florida, west to Texas, north to Colorado and North Dakota, northeast to Ontario; particularly common in Great Lakes area.

Discussion Also called wild potato, Indian potato, hopniss, potato bean, American potato bean.

This legume has a cord-like rootstalk with edible tubers the Indians gathered for food. The Pilgrims relied on them as a food source during their initial years in Massachusetts. The tubers can be used in soups and stews or fried like potatoes; the cooked seeds can also be eaten. The flowers are sufficiently beautiful to warrant cultivation, but the plant tends to take over. The generic name, from Greek for pear, alludes to the shape of the tubers.

Price's Groundnut (A. priceana), a rare species with greenish-white flowers and purple tips, occurs in Kentucky, Tennessee, and southern Illinois.