For a low-maintenance perennial that does great at attracting bees, Purple Prairie Clover may be for you. It is somewhat smaller, typically growing from 1-3′ tall and very hardy, making it a great choice for someone who likes having a lovely perennial but doesn’t want to spend oodles of time maintaining it.
In this article:
- What is Purple Prairie Clover
- What are the benefits of Purple Prairie Clover
- Identification / Characteristics
- How to grow and care for Purple Prairie Clover
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect Purple Prairie Clover
- Where to buy Purple Prairie Clover
- Uses of Purple Prairie Clover
- Final thoughts
What is Purple Prairie Clover
Purple Prairie Clover is a herbaceous perennial native to North America. Scientifically known as Dalea purpurea, it will grow 1-3’ tall in full sun and well-draining soil. Blooming for six weeks in early to mid-Summer, it attracts numerous pollinators and is a food source for birds, rodents, and mammals. Purple Prairie Clover is a member of the Legume family and will readily fix nitrogen to the soil. It’s Botanical Name was originally Petalostemum purpureum, so older references may cite the plant as such. Once a common plant in the vast prairies of North America, agriculture has limited it’s available habitat.
Native Range of Purple Prairie Clover
The native range of Purple Prairie Clover is primarily Central North America, From Alberta to Ontario, and South to Georgia-New Mexico. Or to put it another way, it’s home is generally in between the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains.
Purple Prairie Clover Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Dalea purpurea|
|Common Name(s)||Purple Prairie Clover|
|Native Range, USDA Zone||Central North America, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8|
|Bloom Duration, Color||Six weeks, pink to purple|
|Height||1-3′ tall (30-90 cm)|
|Spacing / Spread||1-2′ (30-60 cm)|
|Light Requirements||Full sun|
|Soil Types||Sandy loam – clay loam|
|Moisture||Dry to medium-moist, well-drained|
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts||Numerous bees, butterflies / hosts Dogface Sulphur and Rearkirt’s Blue butterflies|
What are the Benefits of Purple Prairie Clover
Once established, Purple prairie clover is robust and disease resistant. It can thrive in a wide variety of conditions. It will fix nitrogen from the air to the soil, which it will then use as it’s own personal store of fertilizer. 
Purple Prairie Clover is quite attractive and beautiful in full bloom. It will produce numerous cylindrical spikes of flowers, providing an attractive appearance.
Purple Prairie Clover will attract nearly 100 species of insects to your yard. Now, don’t be scared as these are mainly bees and butterflies interested in the nectar supplied by the numerous tiny flowers. But after the flowers fade songbirds will come eat the seeds, so you get a natural bird feeder in your yard when you grow this plant.
Identification and Characteristics of Purple Prairie Clover
Growing 1-3’ tall, this plant will send up multiple stalks that have slight ridges and are smooth (hairless).
Alternate leaves that are odd-pinnate compound occur along the stem and are roughly 2-4” long. Individual leaflets, dark green and 1” long by 1/8” wide. Leaves have irregular dots on them when examined closely.
Stems terminate with cylindrical spikes of flowers that are 2” long by roughly half as wide. Individual flowers are small, roughly ¼” diameter with 5 petals that are pink to purple in color.
Blooming will last for approximately 4-6 weeks in Summer, and is quite showy. Roughly 6 weeks after blooming seed heads will form. Seeds generally fall from the seed-heads as they dry, and don’t travel far.
How to save seed
To save seed from Purple Prairie Clover, monitor the seed heads. Once they turn brown, collect the seed heads quickly as rodents or small mammals enjoy eating the seeds.
Cut the seed heads off and place them in a paper bag, taking care not to jostle them during the cutting process as seed may fall. Let them dry indoors, in the bag & out of direct sun for approximately one week. Shake the bag to release the seed, then remove the heads and collect the seed.
Fully dried seed from Purple Prairie Clover can be stored in a sealed plastic container/bag or envelope.
The root system of Purple Prairie Clover is a deep woody taproot that will branch in the upper portions near the soil surface.
Grow and Care for Purple Prairie Clover
Full sun is best for Purple Prairie Clover. It will not tolerate shade well.
For soil texture, Purple Prairie Clover is not picky and can grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils. Since it is a member of the legume family, it fixes nitrogen to the soil, taking it out of the air, thus making it’s own fertilizer. 
As an open prairie plant, Purple Praire Clover prefers medium to dry conditions.
For maintenance, Purple Prairie Clover may self-seed locally, but that is all. It is best to leave this plant up during the fall/Winter to provide habitat and cover for birds and rodents. Rodents and small mammals will feed on seeds.
As previously noted, Purple Prairie Clover does not require supplemental fertilizer. It’s makes its own fertilizer by taking nitrogen from the air and storing it in it’s roots.
How to Grow Purple Prairie Clover from Seed
Purple Prairie Clover that has had the hulls removed has no pretreatment requirements and can be direct sown in early Spring. Seed planting depth should be 1/8-1/4” (3-6mm). Seeds with the hulls attached need to be scarified, or Winter Sown to help with germination.
To start seeds in containers, fill suitable pots with moist potting soil. Plant 3-5 seeds at a depth of 1/8-1/4” deep. Place the containers in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Germination should occur within a couple weeks once temperatures begin to warm up.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Purple Prairie Clover
Purple Prairie Clover attracts numerous species of Bees. Charles Robertson observed 94 species visiting the flowers in his 1929 publication. Some species include honeybees, leaf-cutter bees, bumblebees, short tongue bees, hover flies, and the endangered Rusty Patch Bumblebee. At least six species of butterfly have also been documented visiting for nectar such as the common sootywing.
At least two butterflies are hosted by Purple Prairie Clover. Larvae from the Dogface Sulphur and Rearkirt’s Blue have been observed feeding on the leaves.
Small songbirds will feed on the seed of Purple Prairie Clover. Leaving seed heads standing all Winter is one way to naturally feed birds during the cold months.
Deer and Rabbits
Deer and rabbits will eat Purple Prairie Clover. You should protect plants with liquid fence until established. If you are not familiar with it, Liquid Fence is a spray-on deer and rabbit repellent. I use it on my gardens. You can find a link to the concentrate here.
But, due to it’s nutrition and forage, Purple Prairie Clover can be considered a desirable plant for food plots and natural areas to attract wildlife.
Purple Prairie Clover can be grazed by livestock without issue. However it cannot survive repeated or over-grazing.
In addition to bees, grass hoppers, beetles, and some larvae will feed on the foliage. This doesn’t take away from the appearance that much though, so no control is necessary.
Diseases don’t seem to bother Purple Prairie Clover. I’ve grown it in full sun and have never noticed foliar disease effecting it.
Where you can buy Purple Prairie Clover
Purple Prairie Clover is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a common ornamental plant. But it can often be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
Where to buy seeds
We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Uses of Purple Prairie Clover
Purple Prairie clover is best suited for a prairie garden, border garden, or wildflower meadow and planted in mass. It can be used as an isolated specimen in a formal flower bed, and mature species can look bushy with multiple stems.
Purple Prairie Clover can grow well amongst many other sun-loving species. Care should be taken to ensure it doesn’t get shaded out though.
Some companion plants for Purple Prairie Clover would include Echinacea purpurea, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Spotted Beebalm, Aromatic Aster, and Wild Petunia. Many shorter prairie grasses would look good with Purple Prairie Clover such as Prairie Dropseed, Pink Muhly, and Side Oats Grama.
The deep root makes Purple Prairie Clover a desirable plant for erosion control on hillsides, slopes, or any well-drained location where runoff is a concern. It is sometimes included in seed mixes for roadsides, and could be considered a possible alternative to crown vetch.
There are twelve native American uses of Purple Praire Clover documented for 10 different Tribes. Uses include a general infusion to keep away all disease, pneumonia, and a poultice of leaves applied to fresh wounds.[na] It’s sweet roots were also chewed like chewing gum, and a tea was made from it’s leaves. 
Purple Prairie Clover is one of the easier native plants to grow and care for in any location with full-sun and well drained soil. It is attractive, but may be aggressive in formal flowerbeds, so unwanted seedlings may need to be removed each year. Nonetheless, this plant attracts a wide variety of wildlife and is generally attractive all growing season, making it a plant to consider for anyone who gardens for wildlife.
 – Dalea purpurea, USDA NRCS. Accessed 03MAR2023.
 – Carr, B. 2009 Plant Fact Sheet for purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea Vent. var. purpurea). USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, James E. “Bud” Smith Plant Materials Center, Knox City, Texas 79529. Accessed 03MAR2023.
 – Henry, Jimmy, “VIOLET PRAIRIE CLOVER Dalea purpurea Vent.“, USDA NRCS Elsberry Plant Materials Center, 2002, accessed 06MAR2023.
 – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928).
 – Girgin, Gulten. Dalea Aurea, Dalea Candida, Dalea Multiflora and Dalea Purpurea Herbage and Root Nitrogen and Dry Matter Yield as Influenced by Soil, Phosphorus Amendment and Rhizobium Inoculant. Dissertation, Texas A&M University, 2019. Accessed 08MAR2023.
 – Grman, Emily, et al. “Inoculation with remnant prairie soils increased the growth of three native prairie legumes but not necessarily their associations with beneficial soil microbes.” Restoration Ecology 28 (2020): S393-S399.
 – League, Kevin R. 2004. Dalea purpurea. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.usda.gov/database/feis/plants/forb/dalpur/all.html [2023, March 06].
 – Dalea purpurea. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 09MAR2023.
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