Sericea – The No-Respect Legume

Sericea lespedeza is a legume that does not get any respect. It can be an invasive, woody and completely useless plant that livestock refuse to eat. While, I agree that a lot of sericea’s negative reputation is duly earned,  I have recently had a change of heart. Hear me out, I have not lost my mind. What follows are six reasons why sericea might deserve a little more respect.

Photo by Dr. Jimmy Henning

1. Sericea is a perennial taprooted legume that grows well in the middle of the summer. That puts it in a pretty exclusive club.

2. Sericea can persist on acidic, low fertility sites. Sericea is commonly grown on reclaimed mine sites where the soil is extremely acidic, infertile and very droughty. It can be seen growing on gravelly road cuts and other similar areas across Kentucky. It is a very tough plant.

3. There are improved varieties of sericea (like AU-Lotan, Serala and AU-Grazer) that have been selected for lower tannin and finer stems which can support good cattle gains. In a comparison of 37 multi-year grazing studies in Alabama, pure stands of sericea lespedeza were three of the top ten forages for lowest pasture cost per pound of gain. These studies were with Serala and AU-Lotan.

4. The process of field curing of sericea greatly drops the tannin content. Cattle which will avoid sericea pasture will readily consume the same forage cured for hay.

5. Sericea cures quickly and can make good hay. Sometimes called the poor man’s alfalfa, sericea hay is palatable to livestock because the tannin levels decline significantly during field curing. After reading number 6 below, you can see where you might have a ready market for this hay with sheep and goat producers.

6. If you raise sheep or goats, you may already know about the super power of sericea lespedeza. All forms of sericea, from hay, pelleted formulations, silage and pasture have a de-worming effect when fed to small ruminants. Managing internal parasites with small ruminants is difficult because they can graze very close to ground and they can develop resistance to the few de-worming products labeled for small ruminants. The erect growth habit of sericea is also beneficial in managing internal parasites because fewer parasitic stomach worm larvae will crawl up into the elevated grazing zone of sheep and goats.

Sericea lespedeza is not about to knock clover or alfalfa off the gold medal podium when it comes to Kentucky’s most valuable legume. But now you know why it may walk with more of a swagger.