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Chinese Lespedeza
Lespedeza cuneata (Dum.-Cours.) G. Don

International Code - LECU
FIA survey code - 6053

Miller, James H. 2003. Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: a field guide for identification and control. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS–62. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 93 p.

acrobat version

Synonym: sericea lespedeza

Plant. Perennial ascending-to-upright leguminous forb, 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 m) in height, with one-to-many leafy slender stems often branching at midplant, three-leaflet leaves, and tiny whitish flowers. Plant arising from a woody rootcrown. Dormant brown plants remaining upright during most of the winter.

Stems. Often gray green with lines of hairs along the stem.

Leaves. Alternate, crowded and numerous, three-leaflet leaves. Each leaflet oblong to linear with a hairlike tip, 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1 to 2 cm) long and 0.1 to 0.3 inch (3 to 8 mm) wide. Green above and dense whitish hairy to light gray green beneath. Hairy petioles 0.2 to 0.6 inch (5 to 15 mm) long, absent for upper leaves. Stipules narrowly linear.

Flowers. July to September. Clusters of 1 to 3 pealike flowers crowded in upper leaf axils. Flowers white with purple marks, 0.1 to 0.3 inch (4 to 7 mm) long and shorter than leaves. Hairy five-lobed calyx shorter than petals.

Fruit and seeds. October to March. Flat ovate to round single-seeded legume pod 0.12 to 0.15 inch (3 to 4 mm) wide. Pods clustered in terminal axils, scattered along the stem, and clasped by persistent sepals. Green becoming tan.

Ecology. Occurs in new and older forest openings, dry upland woodlands to moist savannas, old fields, right-of-ways, and cities. Flood tolerant. Forms dense stands by sprouting stems from rootcrowns that prevent forest regeneration and land access. Cross- and self-pollinates. Spreads slowly from plantings by seeds that have low germination, but remain viable for decades. Nitrogen fixer.

Resembles native lespedeza, L. virginica (L.) Britt., which grows in tufted clumps instead of infestations, has crowded clusters of pink-purple to violet flowers and somewhat larger leaflets 0.6 to 1.2 inches (1.5 to 3 cm) long, and brown stems.

History and use. Introduced from Japan in 1899—first near Arlington, VA, and soon afterwards in north-central Tennessee—and escaped. Benefited from government programs that promoted plantings for erosion control. Still planted for quail food plots and soil stabilization. Plant improvement breeding programs still underway.

Photo by T. Bodner

Photo by J. Miller

Photo by J. Miller

Photo by J. Miller

Photo by J. Miller

Photo by J. Miller

Photo by J. Miller

States with suspected infestations are shown in gray.

Recommended control procedures:

  • Thoroughly wet all leaves with one of the following herbicides in water with a surfactant (July to September): Garlon 4 as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix), Escort* at three-fourths of an ounce per acre (0.2 dry ounces per 3-gallon mix), Transline† as a 0.2-percent solution (1 ounce per 3-gallon mix), a glyphosate herbicide as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix), or Velpar L* as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix).
  • Mowing 1 to 3 months before herbicide applications can assist control.

*   Nontarget plants may be killed or injured by root uptake.
†   Transline controls a narrow spectrum of plant species.

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USDA Forest ServiceThe Bugwood Network University of Georgia Bargeron, C.T., D.J. Moorhead, G.K. Douce and R. Reardon (Technical Coordinators). 2003.
Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States: Identification and Control. USDA Forest Service -
Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team. Morgantown, WV USA. FHTET-2003-08.