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Sensitive Joint Vetch
sensitive joint vetch
Sensitive joint vetch, photographed at Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade County, in May 2015.
sensitive joint vetch

Globally, sensitive jointvetch, Aeschynomene pratensis, isn't a rare plant, but it is in Florida. Extremely rare, in fact.

Sensitive jointvetch has a fairly large native range, but it's only found in Florida among the 50 states, and in only four of the state's 67 counties. It's so rare that environmental officials actually track the number of places where the plant occurs — 11 in all, three in conservation lands. It's so rare that it's state-listed as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife classifies sensitive jointvetch as "at risk," which carries no real legal weight but relies on the good will of landowners to protect the plant.

And while sensitive jointvetch grows throughout the Caribbean, Central America and South America, the variety found in Florida only grows in Florida. It's demise here reduces the plant's genetic diversity, which could affect the species' viability, ultimately. Sensitive jointvetch also has been introduced to the "old world," meaning generally Europe, Africa and Asia.

The basics: Sensitive jointvetch is a perennial, can reach six feet tall and grows erect rather than sprawling. It has compound leaves about one to three inches long and arranged alternately on the stem. Each leaf has 20 to 26 leaflets, but overall, the foliage is sparse. Like a number of plants in the pea family, the leaves will fold up if touched, the source of its name. The flowers are pea-like, yellow-orange, but can have hints of reds and purples in the petals. Sensitive jointvetch flowers throughout the year. The fruit is a segmented pod.

Habitat for the plant includes marl prairies, cypress domes and swales. The four counties in which it's found: Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier. Note: the Florida Natural Area inventory does not include Broward in its list of counties where the plant is found.

sensitive joint vetch

Also according to the Florida Natural Area Inventory, the keys to the survival of sensitive jointvetch include protecting habitat by restricting development and drainage of wetlands, restoring natural waterflows to the areas where it grows and removal of invasives.

The sensitive jointvetch found in South Florida is classified as a separate variety, Aeschynomene pratensis var. pratensis. Elsewhere it is pratensis var. caribea.

Members of the genus, Aeschynomene, or jointvetches, are found in warmer places around the globe. Some are aquatic. At least two members of the genus are sold commercially in Florida for use in pastures as forage.

Sensitive jointvetch is a member of Fabaceae, the pea family. Other common names for the plant include meadow jointvetch, also spelled meadow joint-vetch. Note: senstive jointvetch is also used as a common name Aeschynomene virginica.

Photographs by David Sedore
Links for Sensitive Jointvetch
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
  Flora of North America     Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.