EPPO Global Database

Lespedeza cuneata(LESCU)

EPPO Datasheet: Lespedeza cuneata

Last updated: 2020-04-23


Preferred name: Lespedeza cuneata
Authority: (Dumont de Courset) G. Don
Taxonomic position: Plantae: Magnoliophyta: Angiospermae: Fabids: Fabales: Fabaceae: Papilionoideae
Other scientific names: Anthyllis cuneata Dumont de Courset, Aspalathus cuneata (Dumont de Courset) G. Don, Hedysarum sericeum Thunberg, Lespedeza argyraea Siebold & Zuccarini, Lespedeza juncea var. sericea (Thunberg) Lace & Hauech, Lespedeza sericea var. latifolia Maximowcz, Lespedeza sericea (Thunberg) Miquel
Common names in English: Chinese bush clover, Chinese lespedeza, Siberian lespedeza (US), bush clover, perennial lespedeza (US), sericea lespedeza (US), silky bush clover
view more common names online...
EPPO Categorization: A1 list
EU Categorization: IAS of Union concern
view more categorizations online...


History of introduction and spread 

Lespedeza cuneata has a native distribution to temperate and tropical Asia and Australasia (Harden, 2001). L. cuneata has been introduced into South Africa but little information is available on its occurrence. L. cuneata is not native to North America. It was initially planted in the USA in 1896 at the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station. In the 1920s and 1930s, L. cuneata was grown and planted for erosion control and mine reclamation but was not widely utilized as a pasture species until the 1940s. As of 2009, L. cuneata was known outside of cultivation as far north as New Jersey and Michigan, as far south as Florida and Texas, and as far west as Nebraska and Oklahoma. L. cuneata populations are also reported in Hawaii. According to the Colorado Weed Management Association, L. cuneata is either absent or very limited in that state. The Southeastern Exotic Pest Plant Council reports that L. cuneata is especially common in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions.


Africa: South Africa
Asia: Afghanistan, Bhutan, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Republic, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam
North America: Canada (Ontario), Mexico, United States of America (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia)
Central America and Caribbean: Dominican Republic
South America: Brazil
Oceania: Australia

MORPHOLOGY 2020-06-09

Plant type 

Erect or sub-erect perennial herbaceous legume. 


L. cuneata is a long-lived perennial or subshrub, growing to a height of 0.5–1 m. The plant produces trifoliate leaves along the entire stem, which are more crowded than those of Lespedeza juncea s.s. (Pramanik & Thothathri, 1983); stems can be coarse or fine, depending on the cultivar (Hoveland & Donnelly, 1985). Leaflets are long, narrow and indented at the end; one of the key features that has been used to distinguish L. cuneata from L. juncea s.s. is the length to width ratio of the leaflets (Pramanik & Thothathri, 1983; Flora of China 2010), with the narrower-leafletted L. cuneata showing ratios between 4:1 and 6:1, but L. juncea s.s. being between 3:1 and 4:1.



L. cuneata is a prolific seed producer, with individual stems able to produce in excess of 1000 seeds, with between 130 and 390 kg of seed produced per acre; 1 kg of seed equals around 770 000 actual seeds (Ohlenbusch et al., 2001). Seed yields are highest if no biomass is removed from the plant (e.g. from grazing, cutting, or burning) during the year of seed harvest (Adamson & Donnelly, 1973). Seeds can be produced in the first year of growth: experiments in Oklahoma demonstrated that plants could set seed as early as 15 weeks (Farris, 2006). Seed are expected to survive for more than 20 years in the soil, although Ohlenbusch et al. (2001) noted that no direct data was available to confirm this expectation. Inferences have been made about seed banks from field studies; however, Carter & Ungar (2002) found L. cuneata seed in 80–90% of soil samples on restored forest on coal mine spoil, although plants were only present in two of four plots. Likewise, Honu et al. (2009) found over 160 seeds per square metre from a forest plot in Illinois where the plant was not found. 


Pramanik & Thothathri (1983) state that L. cuneata (as L. juncea var. sericea) is ‘the only representative of the group occurring in both temperate and tropical climates’, although their circumscription of L. juncea var. sericea includes some taxa that are accepted as distinct species by some other authorities. In the USA it grows from ‘Florida to Texas, north to Nebraska, and east to the Atlantic coast, through the states of Michigan and New York’ (Ohlenbusch et al., 2001). Mosjidis (1990), using growth chamber experiments, found that seedling height, shoot dry weight, leaf dry weight and stem dry weight of all genotypes tested were very sensitive to both day length and temperature. Increases in temperature and day length above the lowest temperature combination (18°C/14°C) and the shortest day length (11 h) brought about large increases in all measurements. Mosjidis (1990) suggests that 26°C/22°C or 30°C/ 26°C (day/night) and a day length of 13 h or 15 h are optimal conditions for screening seedling growth. 

Weber (2017) and Gucker (2010) report that typical invaded habitats include grassland, woodland, forests, edges of wetlands, pastures and disturbed sites.

Environmental requirements

L. cuneata can grow where the annual precipitation exceeds 760 mm. However, the species is also considered to be drought tolerant and is well adapted to clay or loam soils (Hoveland & Donnelly, 1985). A deep taproot system, with numerous lateral branches and finer fibrous roots, may penetrate 1.2 m or more into the soil (Guernsey, 1977; Ohlenbusch et al., 2001) and contributes to the species’ drought resistance. Note that the breeding of cultivars adapted to particular soil types is likely to have extended the fundamental niche of the species; for example, Hoveland & Donnelly (1985) report that the cultivar ‘Serala 76’ is better adapted to light-textured soils than the originally imported accessions. 

L. cuneata can tolerate shallow soils of low productivity with a low pH (< 5), withstanding the high aluminium contents typical of such substrates (Cope, 1966; Plass & Vogel, 1973; Hoveland & Donnelly, 1985; Ohlenbusch et al., 2001). However, L. cuneata reportedly grows best between a pH of 6.0 and 6.5 on deep, well-drained clay or loamy soils (Ohlenbusch et al., 2001). Ohlenbusch et al. (2001) also note that the species tolerates shade reasonably well and is able to establish in dense shade where sunlight does not reach during the day; however, the best establishment is typically obtained where the competing vegetation is very short and light is able to reach both the seed and seedlings (Ohlenbusch et al., 2001). It has been shown in the USA that the species performs better in soil in which it has been previously grown, although the precise mechanism for this self-facilitation is not known (Coykendall & Houseman, 2014). Crawford & Knight (2017) provided evidence that effects on the soil biota were responsible, but also found that the self-facilitation advantage was not found in competition with communities of native prairie species. 

Natural enemies

There are no known natural enemies in the EPPO region. 

Uses and benefits 

Historically, the socio-economic benefits of this species were considered to be high: L. cuneata was originally introduced for the purposes of fodder and soil conservation, with subsequent development of improved varieties for hay and pasturage (Hoveland & Donnelly, 1985). Hoveland & Donnelly (1985) estimated that total hay production was usually 6-11 tonnes ha-1 ; the plant is still promoted for this purpose in some territories. The quality of the forage can be high due to its high levels of crude protein, although the quality is reduced if tannin levels are also high (hence the development of low-tannin varieties). Field drying also decreases tannin concentrations, and livestock will ‘readily consume’ hay containing L. cuneata (Ohlenbusch et al., 2001). Gucker (2010) provides an overview of a number of variables affecting forage quality. The plant is also considered by some authors (e.g. Stubbendiek & Conard, 1989) to be good for honey production. 

Positive effects of the species on animal health and the commercial quality of milk (a reduction in the number of somatic cells in milk) have also been reported (Min et al., 2005). Forage containing condensed tannins, such as L. cuneata, has shown anthelmintic activity against gastrointestinal nematodes of sheep and goats (Terrill et al., 2009). It may play a role in a rotation grazing system and may be included in an integrated control plan. 

The use of L. cuneata to provide rapid greening of disturbed sites includes its use for the revegetation of surface coal mine sites in the eastern USA (e.g. Carter & Ungar, 2002).

It has often been stated that L. cuneata is valuable for wildlife (see Gucker, 2010), although some of this information appears to be anecdotal. Schneider et al. (2006) found the species to be an important year-round food source for reintroduced elk (Cervus elaphus) foraging on restored mine spoil in South-Eastern Kentucky. L. cuneata has been recommended as a food source for the northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus), although one study found that birds fed L. cuneata experienced ‘critical’ weight losses, and that it would be unlikely to sustain birds during severe winter conditions (Newlon et al., 1964). Unger et al. (2015) used radio-tracking to determine habitat use by northern bobwhite on a reclaimed coal mining site and found that L. cuneata stands were frequently used; however, these authors still recommended that L. cuneata control could be beneficial, partly due the suppressive effect of the species on native plants that are of higher nutritional value to the birds. Many authors agree that, in general, the wildlife value of L. cuneata is low (Vogel, 1981; Ohlenbusch et al., 2001).


The species is named in horticultural floras (e.g. Cullen, 1995) for the EPPO region and may be grown on a small scale and be available from horticultural suppliers. The species is also utilized as a forage species outside of the EPPO region and could be imported into the region for this purpose in the search for new protein plants in the future.

Although there is no published evidence of L. cuneata being transported as part of hay material from the USA, there is evidence that hay is imported into the EU (EPPO, 2018) and potentially seed of L. cuneata may be included. 

IMPACTS 2020-06-09

Effects on plants

All impacts described are from the USA. L. cuneata can thrive under a variety of conditions, crowding out native species in natural areas. The species forms dense stands in areas where it invades, reducing light availability and potentially increasing competition for soil water (Eddy & Moore, 1998; Allred et al., 2010). Eddy & Moore (1998) showed that invasions of L. cuneata into oak savannahs in South-Eastern Kansas reduced native species richness. For example, the number of native grass species decreased from 12 to 4 and native forb species declined from 27 to 8. There were also significant impacts on the numbers of invertebrate species found, and on the total biomass of native plant species. Peters et al. (2015) highlight that the bobwhite quail has low summer survival in areas dominated by L. cuneata

Impacts on native plant diversity have also been identified in old fields; Brandon et al. (2004) found the species to suppress native plants, possibly through shading effects. Brandon et al. (2004) concluded that the species ‘can subsequently take over grassland communities’. L. cuneata may also have impacts on native plant communities through allelopathic effects. Allelopathic chemicals have been found to reduce the performance of native grass species by up to 60% (Dudley & Fick, 2003). Positive and negative effects on small mammal diversity and abundances in response to different levels of L. cuneata cover have also been reported (Howard, 2003). Nitrogen-fixing bacteria have been shown to benefit L. cuneata, enabling its growth in nutrient-poor conditions (Brandon et al., 2004; Houseman et al., 2014); thus, an additional impact on ecosystem processes is the potential for the species to increase soil nitrogen levels in invaded habitats.

Environmental and social impact

L. cuneata can replace more palatable forage species in some systems. High tannin levels in old plants can have a negative impact on cattle and horses. L. cuneata has the potential to disrupt pollination networks as the species has been shown to attract more pollinators than co-occurring native species (Woods et al., 2012). L. cuneata can alter nutrient cycling and soil microbial communities.

CONTROL 2019-10-09

Ohlenbusch et al. (2001) provide an overview of control measures for L. cuneata, emphasizing that, as with most invasive alien plants, ‘early detection, isolation of infested areas, and control of individual plants with approved herbicides’ offer the best approach. Integrated approaches to control are recommended for established stands, with the primary goal of reducing year-on-year seed production; these would typically include mixed combinations of grazing, burning and herbicide applications (see Ohlenbusch et al., 2001, for an example schedule). Ohlenbusch et al. (2001) note that conventional management practices of grazing and prescribed burning have not been effective in preventing the spread of L. cuneata; however, burning can improve the effectiveness of herbicides if applied to the regrowth the same year.


In 2016, L. cuneata was identified as a priority for risk assessment within the requirements of Regulation 1143/ 2014 (Branquart et al., 2016; Tanner et al., 2017). A subsequent pest risk analysis concluded that L. cuneata had a moderate phytosanitary risk to the endangered area (OEPP/ EPPO, 2018) and was added to the EPPO A1 List of pests recommended for regulation. In 2019, L. cuneata was included on the (EU) list of Union concern (EU Regulation 1143/2014). 

In the USA, the plant has been declared a noxious weed in Kansas (Ohlenbusch et al., 2001) and, more recently, Nebraska (see http://www.nda.nebraska.gov/plant/noxious_ weeds/index.html). In Colorado, the species is also listed as a noxious weed (https://plants.usda.gov/). In addition, the species is listed as a noxious weed in New York State (http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/islist.pdf). 

In Spain, L. cuneata was considered for inclusion in the ‘black’ list of the Real Decreto (Royal Decree) 630/2013. This is a list of potentially invasive species. Inclusion on this list means, among other things, that the introduction of the species listed is prohibited, and that necessary measures should be taken for management, control and eradication. However, the species was not included in the final legislation.

REFERENCES 2019-10-09

Adamson HC & Donnelly ED (1973) Effect of cutting and irrigation on seed yields of interstate sericea lespedeza. Auburn University Agricultural Experimental Station Leaflet 87. 

Allred BW, Fuhlendorf SD, Monaco TA & Will RE (2010) Morphological and physiological traits in the success of the invasive plant Lespedeza cuneata. Biological Invasions 12, 739–749. 

Brandon AL, Gibson DJ & Middleton BA (2004) Mechanisms for dominance in an early successional old field by the invasive non-native Lespedeza cuneata (Dum. Cours.) G. Don. Biological Invasions 6, 483–493. 

Branquart E, Brundu G, Buholzer S, Ehret P, Fried G, Starfinger U et al. (2016) A prioritisation process for invasive alien plant species compliant with Regulation (EU) No. 1143/2014. EPPO Bulletin 46, 603–617. https://doi.org/10.1111/epp.12336.

Carter CT & Ungar IA (2002) Aboveground vegetation, seed bank and soil analysis of a 31-year-old forest restoration on coal mine spoil in southeastern Ohio. The American Midland Naturalist 147, 44–59. 

Cope WA (1966) Cross-pollination in Sericea lespedeza. Crop Science 6(5), 469–470. 

Coykendall KE & Houseman GR (2014) Lespedeza cuneata invasion alters soils facilitating its own growth. Biological Invasions 16, 1735–1742. 

Crawford KM & Knight TM (2017) Competition overwhelms the positive plant–soil feedback generated by an invasive plant. Oecologia 183, 211–220. 

Cullen J (1995) Lespedeza. European Garden Flora IV, 494–495. 

Dudley DM & Fick WH (2003) Effects of sericea lespedeza residues on selected tallgrass prairie grasses. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 106, 166–170. 

Eddy T & Moore C (1998) Effects of sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata (Dumont) G. Don) invasion on oak savannas in Kansas. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters 86, 57–62. 

EPPO (2018) Pest risk analysis for Lespedeza cuneata EPPO, Paris. https://pra.eppo.int/ [accessed 25 May 2017]

Farris RL (2006) Adaptation, biology and control of sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata), an invasive species. Unpublished dissertation. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater (OK). 

Flora of China (2010). Volume 10 Online: Lespedeza cuneata. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=200012191 [accessed on 27 September 2017] 

Gucker C (2010) (Revised from Munger, G.T. 2004) Lespedeza cuneata. In Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Stations, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). http://www.f s.fed.us/database/feis [accessed on 25 September 2017] 

Guernsey WJ (1977) Sericea lespedeza: its use and management. USDA Farmers’ Bulletin 2245. 

Harden GJ (2001) Flora of New South Wales. UNSW Press, Sydney (AUS). 

Honu YA, Chandy S & Gibson DJ (2009) Occurrence of non-native species deep in natural areas of the Shawnee National Forest, Southern Illinois, USA. Natural Areas Journal 29, 177–187. 

Houseman GR, Foster BL & Brassil CE (2014) Propagule pressure invasibility relationships: testing the influence of soil fertility and disturbance with Lespedeza cuneata. Oecologia 174, 511–520. 

Hoveland CS, Donnelly ED (1985) The Lespedezas. In: Forages: The Science of Grass Agriculture (Ed. Heath ME et al. ), pp. 128–135. Fourth ed. Iowa State Univ. Press, Ames (IA). 

Howard JM (2003) Sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata) invasion: implications for a small mammal community and the influence of local fire history. PhD thesis. Oklahoma State University. 

Min BR, Hart SP, Miller D, Tomita GM, Loetz E & Sahlu T (2005) The effect of grazing forage containing condensed tannins on gastrointestinal parasite infection and milk composition in Angora does. Veterinary Parasitology 130, 105–113. 

Mosjidis JA (1990) Daylength and temperature effects on emergence and early growth of sericea lespedeza. Agronomy Journal 82, 923– 926. 

Newlon CF, Baskett TS, Breitenbach RP & Stanford JA (1964) Sustaining values of emergency foods for bobwhites. The Journal of Wildlife Management 28, 532–542. 

Ohlenbusch PD, Bidwell T, Fick WH, Kilgore G, Scott W, Davidson J et al. (2001). Sericea lespedeza: history, characteristics, and identification. MF-2408. Agricultural Experiment Station, Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA. 

Peters DC, Brooke JM, Tanner EP, Unger AM, Keyser PD, Harper CA et al. (2015) Impact of experimental habitat manipulation on northern bobwhite survival. Journal of Wildlife Management 79, 605–617. 

Plass WT & Vogel WG (1973) Chemical properties and particle-size distribution of 39 surface-mine spoils in southern West Virginia. USDA Forest Serv. Res. Pap. NE-276. 8 pp. 

Pramanik A & Thothathri K (1983) Notes on the taxonomy, distribution and ecology of Lespedeza juncea complex with special reference to India. Journal of Japanese Botany 58, 331–337. 

Schneider J, Maehr DS, Alexy KJ, Cox JJ, Larkin JL & Reeder BC (2006) Food habits of reintroduced elk in southeastern Kentucky. Southeastern Naturalist 5, 535–546. 

Stubbendiek J & Conard EC (1989) Common Legumes of the Great Plains: An Illustrated Guide. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (NE). 

Tanner R, Branquart E, Brundu G, Buholzer S, Chapman D, Ehret P et al. (2017) The prioritisation of a short list of alien plants for risk analysis within the framework of the Regulation (EU) No. 1143/ 2014. NeoBiota 35, 87. 

Terrill TH, Dykes GS, Shaik SA, Miller JE, Kouakou B, Kannan G et al. (2009) Efficacy of sericea lespedeza hay as a natural dewormer in goats: dose titration study. Veterinary Parasitology 163, 52–56. 

Unger AM, Tanner EP, Harper CA, Keyser PD, Van Manen FT, Morgan JJ et al. (2015) Northern bobwhite seasonal habitat selection on a reclaimed surface coal mine in Kentucky. Journal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 2, 235–246. 

Vogel WG (1981) A guide for revegetating coal mine soils in the eastern United States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-68. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, Broomall (PA). 

Weber E (2017) Invasive Plant Species of the World: A Reference Guide to Environmental Weeds. CABI, Wallingford (GB). 

Woods TM, Jonas JL & Ferguson CJ (2012) The invasive Lespedeza cuneata attracts more insect pollinators than native congeners in tallgrass prairie with variable impacts. Biological Invasions 14, 1045–1059.


This datasheet is an output of a DG Environment, LIFE funding, under the project LIFE15 PRE-FR 001: Mitigating the threat of invasive alien plants in the EU through pest risk analysis to support the EU Regulation 1143/ 2014. 

The datasheet was produced following an Expert Working Group (EWG) that risk analysed L. cuneata for the EPPO region in October 2017. The composition of the EWG was as follows: G. Brundu (University of Sassari, Department of Agriculture, IT), D. Chapman (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, GB), L. Flory (University of Florida, US), J. Le Roux (Stellenbosch University, ZA), O. Pescott (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, GB), E. Siemann (Rice University, US), U. Starfinger (Institute for National and International Plant Health, DE) and R. Tanner (EPPO). 

How to cite this datasheet?

EPPO (2022) Lespedeza cuneata. EPPO datasheets on pests recommended for regulation. Available online. https://gd.eppo.int

Datasheet history 2019-10-09

This datasheet was first published in the EPPO Bulletin in 2019 and is now maintained in an electronic format in the EPPO Global Database. The sections on 'Identity' and 'Geographical distribution' are automatically updated from the database. For other sections, the date of last revision is indicated on the right.

EPPO (2019) Lespedeza cuneata (Cum.Cours.) G.Don. Datasheets on pests recommended for regulation. EPPO Bulletin 49 (2), 280-284. https://doi.org/10.1111/epp.12529