Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fodder Galega - Galega orientalis

Every now and then I find a plant I wasn't expecting. This is certainly the case for this charming beauty, found along one of the trails in the Mont-Royal park, which I confess to being intrigued about, because I wonder how it ever got there:

Galega orientalis
This is Galega orientalis, a plant native to Russia & environs [1,2]. It is a member of the Fabaceae (legume family), and like many plants in that family is a fixer of nitrogen [1] -- nitrogen-fixing plants are plants which take atmospheric nitrogen and put it into the soil; this is a very useful trait in agriculture (as nitrogen is one of the essential nutrients for plant growth), but not the primary agricultural use of this plant.

Galega orientalis inflorescence - raceme shape
So why was I surprised to find this plant in the park? Well, the plant has been introduced to North America as a fodder (animal feed) plant [1,2,3,4], so it's not surprising to find it somewhere on this continent so much as it is surprising to find it in the Mont-Royal park, relatively distant from any farms or agricultural operations.  There was only the one plant that I could find and it certainly wasn't there as animal feed. My guess would be that it was brought in on a dog's fur or on the clothes of a person involved with or near agricultural operations with this plant.

Galega orientalis inflorescences
G. orientalis is an excellent fodder plant, as it is relatively high in protein and other valuable nutrients [1,5], as well as hardy and tough, making it suitable for tougher conditions. Work is ongoing to determine the best cultivars for introduction of this plant in agriculture as far north as Alaska [4].

Galega orientalis flowers
G. orientalis is a perennial shrub with upright, non-climbing growth habit [3,5,6]. This plant is a good nectar-producer and is pollinated by bees [1,5].

It's also quite a beautiful plant. I'm often quite charmed by plants in the Fabaceae, many of them are quite beautiful. Of course, a great deal of the world agrees with me: the Fabaceae are not only popular in agriculture but in gardening all over the world; sweet peas, among others, are favourite ornamentals from this family. One of the distinctive characteristics of this family is the bilateral symmetry of the flowers (as opposed to the radial symmetry seen in many other families):

Galega orientalis : bilaterally symmetric flowers

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