Soft or Downy Agrimony is a native erect perennial growing to 3-1/2 feet high on stems that are usually unbranched and that are covered with short dense glandular hairs that are usually non-glistening. Total stem height of plants in the Garden is usually not over two to three feet.
The leaves are pinnately-divided into 5 to 13 coarse toothed leaflets, of uniform shape; except for the terminal leaflet, which is the largest, they are paired. The leaflets are smaller toward the base of the leaf and there are 1 to 3 pairs of minor secondary leaflets in between regular leaflet pairs on the larger leaves. (See photo below.) Upper leaves have fewer leaflets, lower stem leaves have the most leaflets. Each leaflet is elliptic to narrowly elliptic to lanceolate in shape. Each leaf has a stipule with pointed teeth that surrounds the stem. The upper surface of the leaflets is a dark green, without hair, and the underside is paler with fine glandular hair that is usually non-glistening. Veining is conspicuous.
The inflorescence is a spike-like raceme, held above the leaves, of interrupted clusters of short-stalked flowers that are usually alternate on the raceme. The raceme stalk is also hairy and at flowering time it tends to lean over.
Flowers: Each flower is very small, about 1/3 inch wide when open, with a yellow corolla of 5 petals that spread outward, each petal slightly notched at the rounded tip. There are 5 to 15 stamens (usually around 10) ending in yellow anthers (orange at maturity) and 2 styles (from two carpels) that protrude from a yellowish-green nectar ring (an annular disc) in the center. The calyx has five green pointed sepals. Small leaf-like bracts subtend each flower.
Seed: Once the flower is pollinated, the fruiting hypanthia elongates. It is shaped turbinate to campanulate (bell-shaped), green initially; the top is surrounded at the widest center diameter by a fringe of 3 to 4 rows of long hooked bristles. The hypanthia itself is 1.9 to 4.5mm long and 2 to 4.6mm wide, is ridged and the ridges are sparsely hairy. The seeds are achenes and as the seed forms, the head nods downward. In the fall the hooked bristles become tough and stick to clothing.
Habitat: Agrimony grows from a tuberous root system, preferring fertile soils and partial sun. It will grow in full sun as long as moisture is available.
Names: The genus name, is thought to be from the Greek argemone, and refers to plants that provided healing of the eyes. The basis of this is probably from another species, quite prevalent in Britain and Europe, A. eupatoria, which has a long medicinal and practical use history in Europe. The species name, pubescens, means 'downy' and refers to the soft, downy hair. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Wallr,’ is for Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wallroth (1792-1857), German botanist who in addition to his duties as a physician to the city of Nordhausen, performed botanical research.
Comparisons: Three species of Agrimony are found in Minnesota and all resemble each other - A. gryposepala, A. pubescens and A. striata. A. gryposepala, Tall Hairy Agrimony, is much taller - to 5 feet high - and the stems have long glistening glandular hairs, whereas the other two species are shorter and are usually with non-glistening, short, downy glandular stem hairs. A. pubescens. has leaf undersides that rarely have glistening glandular hair; the fruiting hypanthia is turbinate to campanulate in shape; and the leaf stipules have dentate edges. Whereas, A. striata, Roadside Agrimony, has leaf undersides glistening with sessile-glandular hairs, and the fruiting hypanthia is obconic to campanulate, rarely turbinate. The leaf stipule appears somewhat hooked and if it has teeth, they are only on the base end. Another species similar to A. pubescens grows in the southeastern U.S. This is A. microcarpa, Smallfruit Agrimony. The ranges of the two species do overlap so in that overlap area one must look carefully. A. microcarpa has a slightly smaller fruiting hypanthia - 1.9 to 4.5 mm long but only 2 to 4.6 mm wide; the leaf stipules are more deeply incised, and minor leaflets are either none or just one pair.
Above: 1st photo - Flowers open from the bottom of the raceme first and the raceme elongates as the flowers mature. 2nd photo - note that the fringe of bristles that eventually frame the seed capsule are already formed on the unopened flowers. In the center there are usually about 10 stamens and 2 styles around a yellow-green nectar ring. 3rd photo - Upper leaves have fewer leaflets than lower leaves.
Below: 1st photo - The leaf underside with its fine hair. 2nd photo - stem hair.
Below: 1st photo - The fruiting hypanthiam is surrounded by a fringe of 3 to 4 rows long hooked bristles. In the fall these become tough and stick to clothing. 2nd photo - The lower leaf structure showing the decreasing size of the leaflets toward the base of the leaf and with smaller leaflet pairs interspersed.
Below: A key to separating Soft Agrimony from its close relative Roadside Agrimony is the leaf stipule. 1st photo - The leaf stipule of Soft Agrimony with pointed teeth all around and surrounds the stem. 2nd photo - the stipule of Roadside Agrimony appears somewhat hooked and if it has teeth, they are only on the base end.
Notes: Eloise Butler had catalogued two agrimonies in her early plant index as present in the Garden area. One was A. gryposepala (Tall Hairy Agrimony) and the other was A. eupatoria, (Churchsteeples), which is a European import, which she catalogued on Sept. 6, 1907. Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time listed A. gryposepala only. She had earlier catalogued it blooming in 1938. This is a more common species that is native to Minnesota in counties toward the East third of the state plus the NW. Absent West and SW.
Both A. gryposepala and A. pubescens are native to Minnesota, in addition to the most common species, A. striata, Roadside Agrimony, but A. pubescens is less documented - populations reported by the DNR in only six counties. By 1986, only A. pubescens was the only Agrimony listed on the Garden census.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"