Saturday, July 1, 2017

Partridge Pea - One of the Best (Self-Sowing) Annuals in my Garden

The bumblebees fly up into the partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) flowers and then vibrate with a high-pitched buzz... presumably to harvest the pollen? It's fun to observe!

Pollination results in the formation of these long seedpods. When the pods ripen, they turn a dark reddish color and split open to release their seeds, some of which will ideally sprout to create next year's partridge peas.

I scattered ~ 130 seeds outdoors in autumn 2015 from Kansas Native Plants. Last spring, I only had a few plants germinate, but this year I have dozens of plants. I harvested some of the seeds to scatter around the garden and let other seeds fall naturally to the ground beneath the plant. Some seedlings have sprouted in the lawn too, but they don't seem to flower (so far) with regular mowing and are easy to pull, so I'm not too worried about this plant becoming a lawn weed. 

Partridge pea is native to Tennessee and throughout much of the rest of the Central and Eastern U.S.
The only place I've seen it growing wild (and it might actually have been planted there) was alongside a parking lot in a South Florida nature preserve.
These plants are growing in full sun on unamended, compacted clay soil with very little supplemental irrigation. (I think I've watered them by hose a few times so far this year.)  As you can see, they appear to be thriving.
Per the USDA:

[Partridge pea] seed is one of the major food items of northern bobwhite and other quail species because it remains in sound condition throughout the winter and early spring. Partridge pea was found to be one of the most important fall and winter foods of bobwhite quail in Alabama. Partridge pea seeds are high in phosphorus content and protein value, and low in crude fiber and lignin making digestibility generally high.

Seeds of this legume are also eaten by the greater and lesser prairie-chicken, ring-necked pheasant, mallard [and] grassland birds.

Partridge pea often grows in dense stands, producing litter and plant stalks that furnish cover for upland game birds, small mammals, small non-game birds, and waterfowl.

Partridge pea is considered an important honey plant, often occurring where few other honey plants are found. Nectar is not available in the flowers of showy partridge pea but is produced by small orange glands at the base of each leaf. Ants often seek the nectar and are frequent visitors. The common sulfur butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves, and the larvae use the leaves as a food source.

Partridge pea is considered an excellent species for planting on disturbed areas for erosion
control and improving soil fertility. It establishes rapidly, fixes nitrogen, reseeds, and slowly decreases as other species in the seeding mix begin to dominate the site. Nitrogen fixation is greatest during the flowering stage. To help prevent weed establishment and control soil erosion along county roadsides in Iowa, partridge pea is often included in the seed mix with other forbs and grasses.

Per the North American Butterfly Association:

Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow caterpillars all use Partridge Pea as a food source. All three of these butterflies range widely over the southern U.S., with Little Yellow’s range being restricted eastward.

Partridge Pea is also used as a food source by Ceraunus Blue caterpillars which are common in far southern regions, usually late in the summer; found all year long in southern Florida and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Gray Hairstreak caterpillars also include Partridge Pea as a caterpillar food plant in addition to countless other plants.


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