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Species At Risk

Virginia Goat’s-rue

(Tephrosia virginiana)


Virginia Goat’s-rue
Virginia Goat’s-rue occurrences map


Virginia Goat’s-rue is a member of the pea family. In Ontario, it usually grows no more than half a metre in height. The stem, branches, and leaf stalks are covered in silky white hairs. The leaves are alternate (each leaf arising from a different point along the stem) and segmented into nine to 31 small leaflets. Each leaflet is one to three centimetres long with a smooth upper surface and densely hairy underside. This plant produces showy pea-like flowers with upper petals pale yellow or white, and lower ones pink. Fruit are linear pods 3.5 to 5.5 centimetres, flattened to slightly curved with six to 11 kidney shaped seeds.

Action we are taking:


Virginia Goat’s-rue range extends from New Hampshire west to Nebraska and Texas, and south to Florida. Populations at the northern limits of the range, in southern Ontario, New Hampshire, New York, Michigan and Wisconsin, are widely separated. In Canada, the Virginia Goat’s-rue is found only in southwestern Ontario where it is believed to be restricted to two sites on the Norfolk Sand Plain near Turkey Point on Lake Erie's north shore. It is thought to be extirpated from at least four other sites in this area. Two invasive plant species, Periwinkle (Vinca minor) and Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata), are known to occur with Virginia Goat’s-rue at one location.


Virginia Goat’s-rue grows in open, sunny areas with sandy soil, such as prairies, open oak and pine forests on sandy ridges, and sand dunes. It has also been found in more disturbed habitats, such as roadsides and abandoned fields. In Ontario, Virginia Goat’s-rue is limited to acidic sand deposits in remnant Black Oak savanna and open Black Oak woodland.


Threats to Virginia Goat’s-rue include habitat destruction due to erosion and the growth of trees and shrubs in areas where open sandy habitat was previously maintained by natural fire regimes. ATV traffic and clearing of vegetation under hydro lines may pose a threat to some plants. Sand extraction is a known threat at one site. One known population is located near a roadside and could be harmed by sand removal, herbicide spraying, and road widening.


Virginia Goat’s-rue is protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. It is also protected under the federal Species at Risk Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Virginia Goat’s-rue

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as Virginia Goat’s-rue. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species at risk recovery. If you find Virginia Goat’s-rue on your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Virginia Goat’s-rue and many other species at risk depend on healthy grassland prairies, a rare habitat in Ontario. Learn more about these habitats, the species that depend on them, and what you can do to help at www.tallgrassontario.org.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Invasive species seriously threaten many of Ontario’s species at risk. To learn what you can do to help reduce the threat of invasive species, visit: ontario.ca/invasivespecies; www.invadingspecies.com; www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca; and, www.invasivespecies.gc.ca.

Did you know?

Aboriginal people used Virginia Goat’s-rue to treat tuberculosis, fever, coughing, reproductive problems, and even hair loss.

Did you know?

Virginia Goat’s-rue has its own self-defence against pesky insects. The chemical rotenone has been found in the plant, a chemical that is used as an insecticide and piscicide.

Did you know?

The plant is also called rabbit pea because of the white hairs covering its stem, branches, and leaf stalks.

Did you know?

Virginia Goat’s-rue can be mistaken for the common and weedy crown vetch, also in the pea family. Crown vetch has pink and white bicoloured flowers and similar compound leaves. However, it is a sprawling plant that cannot grow very tall without draping over other plants, whereas goat’s-rue has tall upright stems and larger flowers.

Did you know?

Fire plays a very important role in maintaining prairie habitat where Virginia Goat’s-rue lives. Fire stimulates the growth of hardy prairie flowers while naturally removing trees and shrubs that would otherwise overtake this unique habitat.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.