CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Aeschynomene virginica

Alan Griffith

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Aeschynomene virginica

Common Names: 
sensitive joint-vetch, Virginia joint-vetch
(L.) B.S.P.
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


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Aeschynomene virginicaenlarge
Photographer: Alan Griffith
Image Owner: personal

Aeschynomene virginicaenlarge
Photographer: Alan Griffith
Image Owner: personal

Aeschynomene virginica is Fully Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Elizabeth J. Farnsworth contributed to this Plant Profile.

Aeschynomene virginica

Sensitive joint-vetch, so-named because its leaves fold slightly when touched, inhabits freshwater tidal marshes along the mid-Atlantic coast. Only 24 populations remain in New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, and the species has shrunk substantially from its former distribution, which once also included Pennsylvania and Delaware. Factors contributing to the decline of Aeschynomene virginica include: road construction; residential, commercial and industrial development; water pollution; bank erosion; and motor boat traffic -- all associated with extremely rapid population growth in the mid-Atlantic states. Interestingly, Aeschynomene virginica has frequently been confused in the scientific literature with the invasive weed, Aeschynomene indica, and referred to erroneously as an agricultural pest! Recent genetic and taxonomic studies have resolved this confusion (Carulli and Fairbrothers 1988, Isley 1990).

Research and Management Summary:
This species has been relatively well studied. A number of sites in the United States are protected by The Nature Conservancy, and some work is being done to remove invasive species.

Plant Description:
Aeschynomene virginica is a robust, annual herb in the pea family that grows up to 2 meters (6 feet) tall. It produces alternate, compound leaves with 30-56 leaflets along the stem that are slightly hairy and dotted with glands. Flowers are pea-like, about 1 cm (0.4 in) long, and yellow with prominent red veins; flowers appear in late July and continue into autumn. Fruits are segmented pods about 6 cm (2.3 in) long and are produced until first frost.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
New Jersey
North Carolina
State Range of  Aeschynomene virginica
  Aeschynomene virginica is native to freshwater tidal marshes of the mid-Atlantic states (USFWS 1992). These marshes exhibit twice-daily tides, but occur far enough upstream that they are nearly fresh or barely brackish in water chemistry. Salinity of one site in New Jersey ranges from 0.7 to 0.8 ppt with an average pH of 4.4. (NatureServe 2001). Only a small group of plants can tolerate this tidal inundation; thus, freshwater tidal marshes are home to many specialized and rare species. Aeschynomene virginica grows low in the intertidal zone where soils may be mucky, sandy, or gravelly (Department of Conservation and Recreation 1997). Aeschynomene virginica may perform best in areas of the marsh where competition with other plants is reduced -- for example, newly accreting shores or openings created by wrack deposition or muskrat activity (Department of Conservation and Recreation 1997).

In North Carolina, A. virginica has been found in a few road-side ditches and wet corn fields, but these are not considered stable populations (Leonard 1985, USFWS 1992). Biological inventories of available freshwater tidal marsh habitat in North Carolina did not turn up additional populations, so the outlook for the taxon in that state is uncertain.

Plant species commonly associated with A. virginica include: Zizania aquatica, Peltandra virginica, Pontederia cordata, Bidens laevis, Polygonum arifolium, P. sagittatum, and Leersia oryzoides, and, in southern areas, another similar legume, Chamaecrista fasciculata var. macrosperma (Department of Conservation and Recreation 1997, NatureServe 2001).

  Known from 24 documented populations in New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. The species is most abundant in Virginia, with 20 populations occurring there along six rivers. An additional historic Virginia population in the Colonial National Historical Park along the Back River was rediscovered by a Natural Heritage Biologist in 2000 (Department of Conservation and Recreation 2001). The species is noted historically from Delaware (last seen in 1899) and Pennsylvania (last seen in 1891), but is presumed extirpated from both states (USFWS 1992). Gleason and Cronquist (1991) report the range of the species from "New Jersey to South Carolina" but its status in South Carolina is unknown. Strangely, there are also accessions at the Missouri Botanical Garden from Tortuguero, Lim'n, Costa Rica (Collected March 1988) and Presidente Hayes, Paraguay (Coll. May 1917). However, their authenticity and native/exotic status are uncertain; they may actually be Aeschynomene indica.

Number Left
  24 populations of Aeschynomene virginica are documented in the original recovery plan, but one historic population in Virginia was rediscovered in 2001.

New Jersey supports several thousand plants in 2 populations: one in the Maurice River watershed and one near the Hudson (American Museum of Natural History 2001, Joseph Patt [The Nature Conservancy] unpublished data).
Maryland has one population of several hundred plants.
North Carolina's ditch populations are very small and variable from year to year.
Virginia reports approximately 5,000 plants altogether.

Therefore, the global population is on the order of 10,000 plants (USFWS 1992). Population numbers fluctuate widely among years, making global population estimates problematic.


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Delaware SX 2/1/2001  
  Maryland S1 E 4/30/2001  
  New Jersey S1 E 9/1/2001  
  North Carolina S1 E 6/20/2001  
  Pennsylvania SX PX 2/9/2001  
  Virginia S2 5/1/2001  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Aeschynomene virginica is an annual legume restricted to freshwater tidal marshes, and is considered an obligate wetland species (USDA 2002).

Conspicuous yellow flowers remain on the plant throughout the summer months. Insects are the primary pollinators: bumblebees (Bombus spp.), leaf-cutter bees (family Megachilidae), and the least skipper (Ancylozypha numitor) have been observed on plants in New Jersey, according to Dr. Joeseph Patt of The Nature Conservancy.

Seeds are produced in pods, and segments of the pods can float and potentially disperse in water. However, seeds commonly fall very close to the parent plant (Griffith 2001). Seedlings may preferentially germinate in rafts of floating plant material that have been deposited on the river bank (Bruederle and Davison 1984). Such floating wrack may kill existing plants and open new bare space that can be colonized by A. virginica. Muskrats may also create such openings (Department of Conservation and Recreation 1997). As an opportunistic colonizer of bare space, an apparently poor competitor with other plants, and a plant that occurs in periodically disturbed, riparian sub-populations that may exchange propagules, A. virginica may exhibit metapopulation dynamics where it occurs (Griffith 2001).

Like its more common relatives, A. indica and A. americana (Grant 1996), Aeschynomene virginica may form nodules with symbiotic, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, but these dynamics have not been studied. If so, the species may be very sensitive to changes in the nitrogen content of wetland soils due to increasing nutrient inputs in water and rising atmospheric nitrogen deposition, problems that are especially severe in the mid-Atlantic region.

  As identified by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1992):

Habitat destruction due to shoreline stabilization, rip-rapping, channelization, and dredging to support residential, commercial, and industrial development
Shoreline erosion due to boat and jet-ski wakes
Increased sedimentation due to changing hydrology
Increased point and non-point discharges of pollutants in riverways, including nitrogen
Sea-level rise that increases wave action and salinity in tidal marshes
Invasive species, especially by Phragmites australis (common reed)
Increased water withdrawal in watersheds due to rapidly increasing populations along mid-Atlantic coastal areas

Current Research Summary
  Allozyme variation distinguishing Aeschynomene virginica from congeners has been documented (Carulli and Fairbrothers 1988).

The Chloroplast DNA (cDNA) sequence has been published for the taxon (GenBank release 123.0, April 2001)

Botanist Gerry Moore (Brooklyn Botanical Garden) has surveyed extensive areas of the Maurice River watershed in New Jersey for additional populations of Aeschynomene virginica.

Graduate student, Alan Griffith (University of Maryland) is completing his doctoral dissertation on metapopulation dynamics of Aeschynomene virginica. He has transplanted seedlings of the plant to research plots and notes that survivorship and seed production of A. virginica are significantly higher in areas where other vegetation has been cleared. Survivorship of seedlings is still below 20%, however.

Jerry M. Baskin (University of Kentucky) received funding from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study seed germination in A. virginica. The species germinates without dormancy following scarification and treatment with 30 oC/15 oC temperatures in the laboratory (Baskin and Baskin 1998: 494).

Student Elizabeth Mountz presented an abstract discussing the identification of essential habitat for A. virginica at the 2000 Student Research Conference for the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia (contact conference organizer, Heidi B. Davis [hbdavis@odu.edu] for information on obtaining conference proceedings).

Biologist Joe Patt (The Nature Conservancy, Delaware Bayshores Office) is conducting studies of population dynamics, pollination and herbivory on the Maurice River watershed population of A. virginica. He notes high variability in population numbers from year to year (fluctuating from thousands to tens of thousands of plants), and is devising a consistent transect method for censusing plants.

Professor Peter F. Straub of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey is measuring homozygosity levels in populations of A. virginica.

The New England Wild Flower Society and partners in mid-Atlantic states have collected seeds from several populations. Accessions are also held by the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Current Management Summary
  Currently, sites in Virginia and New Jersey are protected by The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey is removing invasive Phragmites australis near one population along the Manumuskin River (contact Joe Patt, TNC, jpatt@tnc.org for more information)

Research Management Needs
  What is needed:
A survey of the prevalence and impacts of invasive species on existing populations is needed, and the effect of invasive species removal on this species needs to be monitored

Studies of the impacts of nutrient loading on ecophysiology, symbiotic nodulation, and fitness of A. virginica.

Studies to inform the creation of habitat or optimal conditions for establishment of A. virginica

Study of the impacts of rising sea level (increased salinity) on A. virginica and other freshwater wetland plant species

Basic information on pollinator identity, herbivores, nodulation symbionts, and other factors influencing establishment and fitness

Ex Situ Needs
  Systematic seed germination trials should be initiated
Propagation of A. virginica for wetland restoration and possible mitigation would also be beneficial


Books (Single Authors)

Baskin, C.C.; Baskin, J.M. 1998. Seeds: Ecology, Biogeography, and Evolution of Dormancy and Germination. San Diego, California: Academic Press.

Gleason, H.A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown illustrated flora of the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York, NY: Hafner Press. 1732p.

Gleason, H.A.; Cronquist, A. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Bronx: The New York Botanical Garden.

Gray, A.; Fernald, M.L. 1987. Gray's manual of botany: a handbook of the flowering plants and ferns of the central and northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. Portland, Or.: Dioscorides Press. 1632p.

Isely, D. 1990. Vascular flora of the southeastern United States. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 258p.

Radford, A.E.; Ahles, H.E.; Bell, C.R. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 1183p.

Electronic Sources

(2001). Report on Aeschynomene virginica from the Hudson River/New York Bight region. American Museum of Natural History. http://sciencebulltins.amnh.org/biobulletin/success/bight8d.html. Accessed: 2002.

(2001). Virginia Natural Heritage E-News. Department of Conservation and Recreation, Richmond, Virginia. Spring 2001 edition. http://www.dcr.state.va.us/dnh/enewsspr01.pdf. Accessed: 2002.

Chornesky, E.A.; Palmer, C.M. (1995). California Exotic Pest Plant Council 1995 Symposium Proceedings Use of Biologically Based Methods to Control Pest Plants: Issues Related to Federal Research, Regulation, and Implementation.

NatureServe. (2008). NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. [Internet].Version 7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. Accessed: (June 17, 2008).

USDA. (2002). PLANTS profiles. [Web site] United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. http://www.plants.usda.gov. Accessed: 2002.

USFWS. (1990). Endangered and Threatened Species Accounts. [Web page] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Endangered Species. http://ecos.fws.gov/servlet/TESSSpeciesQuery. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Baskin, J.M.; Tyndall, R.W.; Chaffins, M.; Baskin, C.C. 1998. Effect of salinity on germination and viability of nondormant seeds of the federal threatened species Aeschynomene virginica (Fabaceae). Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society. 125, 3: 246-248.

Black, B.D.; Griffin, J.L.; Russin, J.S.; Snow, J.P. 1996. Weed hosts for Rhizoctonia solani, causal agent for Rhizoctonia foliar blight of soybean (Glycine max). Weed Technology. 10, 4: 865-869.

Black, B.D.; Padgett, G.B.; Russin, J.S.; Griffin, J.L.; Snow, J.P.; Berggren, G.T. 1996. Potential weed hosts for Diaporthe phaseolorum var. caulivora, causal agent for soybean stem canker. Plant Disease. 80, 7: 763-765.

Brooker, N.L.; Mischke, C.F.; Patterson, C.D.; Mischke, S.; Bruckart, W.L.; Lydon, J. 1996. Pathogenicity of bar-transformed Colletotrichum gloeosporioides f sp aeschynomene. Biological Control. 7, 2: 159-166.

Carulli, J.P.; Fairbrothers, D.E. 1988. Allozyme Variation in Three Eastern United States Species of Aeschynomene (Fabaceae), Including the Rare A. virginica. Systematic Botany. 13, 4: 559-566.

Chacko, R.J.; Weidemann, G.J.; Tebeest, D.O.; Correll, J.C. 1994. The Use of Vegetative Compatibility and Heterokaryosis to Determine Potential Asexual Gene Exchange in Colletotrichum gloeosporioides. Biological Control. 4, 4: 382-389.

Cisar, C.R.; Thornton, A.B.; TeBeest, D.O. 1996. Isolates of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides (Teleomorph: Glomerella cingulata) with different host specificities mate on northern jointvetch. Biological Control. 7, 1: 75-83.

Culbertson, D.L. Chlorimuron Herbicidal Activity: Efficacy, Absorption, Translocation, and Metabolism. Dissertation Abstracts International. 49-07, Section: B: 2421.

Fernald, M.L. 1939. Aeschynomene virginica (L.) BSP and A. hispida (A. indica). Rhodora. 41: 466-467.

Ferren, W.R., Jr.; Schuyler, A.E. 1980. Intertidal vascular plants of river systems near Philadelphia. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. 132: 86-120.

Grant, W.M. 1996. Developmental regulation of nodulation in Arachis hypogea and Aeschynomene virginica [sic = A. indica]. Symbiosis. 20: 247-258.

Latunde-Dada, A.O.; O'Connell, R.J.; Nash, C.; Lucas, J.A. 1999. Stomatal penetration of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) leaves by a Colletotrichum species causing latent anthracnose. Plant Pathology. 48, 6: 777-784.

Luo, Y.; TeBeest, D.O. 1997. Infection components of wild-type and mutant strains of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides f.sp. aeschynomene on northern jointvetch. Plant Disease. 81, 4: 404-409.

Luo, Y.; TeBeest, D.O. 1998. Behavior of a wild-type and two mutant strains of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides f. sp. aeschynomene on northern jointvetch in the field. Plant Disease. 82, 4: 374-379.

Luo, Y.; TeBeest, D.O. 1999. Effect of temperature and dew period on infection of northern jointvetch by wild-type and mutant strains of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides f. sp. aeschynomene. Biological Control. 14, 1: 1-6.

Rudd, V.E. 1955. The American species of Aeschynomene. Contributions of the U. S. National Herbaria. 32: 1-172.

Smith, R.J., Jr. 1986. Biological control of northern jointvetch (Aeschynomene virginica) in rice (Oryza sativa) and soybeans (Glycine max)--a researcher's view. Weed Science. 34 supplement: 17-23.

USFWS. 1991. Proposal to list the sensitive joint-vetch (Aeschynomene virginica). Federal Register. 56, 144: 34162-34167.

USFWS. 1992. Determination of threatened status for the sensitive joint-vetch (Aeschynomene virginica). Federal Register. 57, 98: 21569-21574.

Yang, X.B.; Tebeest, D.O.; Smith, R.J. 1994. Distribution and Grasshopper Transmission of Northern Jointvetch Anthracnose in Rice. Plant Disease. 78, 2: 130-133.


1997. Natural Heritage Resources Fact Sheet: Sensitive Joint-Vetch (Aeschynomene virginica). Richmond, Virginia: Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia.

Bruderle, L.P.; Davison, S.E. 1984. Draft Stewardship Abstract- Aeschynomene virginica. Arlington, Virginia: The Nature Conservancy. p.6.

GenBank. 2001. Chloroplast DNA sequence for Aeschynomene virginica: Release 123.0. GenBank.

Leonard, S.W. 1985. Status report on Aeschynomene virginica in North Carolina. Boston, MA: The Nature Conservancy. p.6. Unpublished report.

Leonard, S.W. 1986. Status report on Aeschynomene virginica in North Carolina. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.6.

Murdock, N.; Weakley, A.; Frost, C.C.; Boyer, M.; Leonard, S.W.; Schultz, C. 1995. Sensitive joint-vetch. North Carolina and Virginia: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. p.4.

Rawinski, T. 1986. Range-wide Status Survey for Aeschynomene virginica. Boston, Massachusetts: Report to Region 5, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from The Nature Conservancy.

Rouse, G.D. 1994. Sensitive joint-vetch life history and habitat study, 1993 Field Season, Mattaponi and Rappahannock River systems, Virginia. Richmond, VA: Schnabel Environmental Services. p.26.

USFWS. 1995. Sensitive Joint-Vetch (Aeschynomene virginica) Recovery Plan. Hadley, Massachusetts: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. p.55.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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