Sunday, August 4, 2013

More Peas, Please!

The beautiful and modest blooms of Atlantic pigeon-wings (Clitoria mariana) caught my eye on the side of the road while walking the other day. The soft blue petals only last for a few days before they start to fade, so timing is everything in order to appreciate the blooms. 

Clitoria mariana
Also known as butterfly pea, the resemblance to the pea family (Fabaceae) is noticeable. The flowers of the most familiar members of the pea family are irregular flowers with 5 petals: one large petal and two pairs of smaller petals. This website has a great description and illustrations

Developing seed pod

Leaves are usually compound leaves with 3 or more leaflets. The “fruit” of the pea family members is perhaps the most distinctive part: it is often a legume or a pod with seeds inside.  It splits along the side to release the seeds.

Thinking about the pea family led me to think about what other plants are in that family. There are a lot of them – it is the third largest family of land plants, only orchids (#1) and asters are larger.

Here’s a walk through some of the other pea family plants in Georgia that you might encounter. Since plants in the Fabaceae family can be perennials, shrubs/trees and vines, I will organize them accordingly.

Perennials:  Spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum) looks very similar, partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is a cheery yellow, ticktrefoil (Desmodium spp.) is often pink, Lespedeza is pink or white, sensitive plant (Mimosa spp.) is pink, Senna is yellow, hoarypea (Tephrosia virginiana) is multi-colored, clover (Trifolium spp.) is several colors - they are mostly non-native in terms of the ones we see, vetch (Vicia spp.) is several colors, coralbean (Erythrina herbacea) is red, lupine (Lupinus spp.) is blue, Baptisia is several colors, and Carolina indigo (Indigofera caroliniana) is red.

Chamaecrista fasciculata
Tephrosia virginiana

Lespedeza virginica

Erythrina herbacea

Mimosa microphylla

Notice that sensitive plant (Mimosa) has unusual blooms compared to other pea family plants. It is a part of the subfamily Mimosoideae, the plants of which have markedly different blooms. Also in this subfamily is the non-native silk tree (Albizia julibrissin).

Shrubs/Trees – False indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), Cassia, redbud (Cercis canadensis), yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos), coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).

Cercis canadensis

Robinia pseudoacacia

Vines – hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), groundnut (Apios americana), American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), and yes, the non-native kudzu (Pueraria montana).

Apios americana
Wisteria frutescens
With such a large family, it's not hard to find new ones to use and appreciate. Feel free to say "more peas, please!" the next time you come across one of these gorgeous natives.


  1. simply beautifully captured shots...lovely!

  2. I have Centrosema virginianum, Spurred butterfly pea in my woods and was surprised to find Groundnut, Apios americana along the shoreline of our lake.

  3. Do you have Crotalaria spectabilis growing up there?
    Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is an annual at my house...
    With the poor soils that we have in GA, Fabaceaes are important elements in the landscape.