Astragalus cicer Astragalus cicer Astragalus cicer

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Liquorice Milkvetch

Astragalus glycyphyllos

  • Name also: Liquorice Milk-vetch, Wild Liquorice, Wild Licorice
  • Family: Pea family – Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Limp, crawling.
  • Height: 50–120 cm (20–50 in.). Stem ascending, angular and winding, bristly, glabrous.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, dirty pale yellow, 10–15 mm (0.4–0.6 in.) long; the upstanding the ‘standard’, the lateral two the ‘wings’, the lower two united to form the ‘keel’, overall shape of corolla being butterfly-like. Keel often darker than other parts. Calyx glabrous, 5-lobed, lobes narrow. Stamens 10, filaments fused at base. A single carpel. Inflorescence a dense, 5–15-flowered raceme. Flower-stalk about half the length of subtending bracts.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, stipulate. Blade pinnate, 3–7-paired, with terminal leaflet. Leaflets 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in.), broadly elliptic–ovate, blunt, with entire margins. Stipules ovate, sharp-tipped.
  • Fruit: 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in.) long, curved, narrow, sharp-tipped, with 2 compartments, many-seeded, pendent, indehiscent pod (legume).
  • Habitat: Light-filled forest margins, ballast soil deposits, roadsides.
  • Flowering time: June–July.
  • Endangerment: Critically endangered, protected in the whole of Finland.

In Finland liquorice milkvetch is found in the wild only in parts of the south-west of the country. In Europe the species is cultivated as a fodder plant. Liquorice milkvetch tastes rather sweet and a bit like liquorice, as its name suggests. Its scientific name glycyphyllos also refers to this sweet flavour – glyks means sweet and phyllos means leaves. However, the flavouring in factory-made liquorice usually come from sweet liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), which also belongs to the Pea family. The roots of genus Astragulus plants are used especially in Chinese medicine to treat e.g. asthma.

If liquorice milkvetch is found during a trip, only a short examination is needed to differentiate it from its close yellow-flowered relatives. The leaves of meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis) are with 2 leaflets with the terminal leaflet modified into a tendril, ribbed melilot (Melilotus officinalis) and genus Medicago have three leaflets, genus Lotus has two pairs of leaflets plus a terminal leaflet, and genus Anthyllis is a spherical raceme during its flowering time. Liquorice milkvetch is like Arctic milkvetch in many ways, but it differs in its limp way of growing and its erect, glabrous pod. Usually the place that is found growing helps a lot with identifying the correct species.

Wild Lentil (Chickpea Milkvetch, Cicer Milkwetch)

Astragalus cicer

Wild lentil can be seen only rarely in Finland. When flowering it resembles a lot liquorice milkwetch. Wild lentil has a larger number of leaflet pairs (8–12), leaflets are narrower, petal is dark-haired and the pea is roundish, short (ca. 1.5 cm; 0.6 in.) and hairy.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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