Partridge Pea - Chamaecrista fasciculata
Other common names for this plant include Showy Partridge Pea, Sensitive Plant, Sleepingplant.
Native from southern Florida to northern Minnesota, partridge pea looks best when planted in groups and is easy to include in most medium to large size gardens. A short-lived perennial that is grown as an annual, partridge pea has bright yellow flowers that incorporate easily into many garden border combinations. Try pairing with liatris for contrasting colors and plant forms.
Partridge pea also provides pollen for a number of other insects and birds relish the seed pods that follow the flowers.
Importance as a caterpillar food source: 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.
Importance as a butterfly nectar source: A good nectar source that also attracts many pollinators in addition to butterflies.
The following article originally appeared in Butterfly Gardener (Vol. 15, Issue 1, Spring 2010). NABA member Lenora Larson has graciously allowed us to reprint it here.
Food Plant—Partridge Pea
By Lenora Larson
We have consensus: members of the Leguminosae (Pea) family are delicious. Humans relish peas and beans. Horses and Hairstreak caterpillars happily consume alfalfa. Rabbits so adore white clover that it can be grown as a distracting protector for the rest of your garden plants. Even bacteria munch on the Leguminosae roots and fix nitrogen back into the soil. And the caterpillars of four species of butterflies feast on the leaves of the genus Cassia: the Orange Sulphur, Cloudless Sulphur, Gray Hairstreak and Little Yellow.
Butterfly Gardener has already talked about Cassia marilandica, the delightful native perennial, whose pinnately compound leaves are appreciated by Orange and Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars. (Volume 10, 2005). This “Wild Senna” blooms with long racemes of brilliant yellow flowers that are visited by an orchestra of pollinators. The attractive blue-green foliage on multi-stemmed five foot plants grants this beauty a permanent spot at the back of the flower bed. It dies to the ground in winter and reappears in late spring, accompanied by many seedlings if the gardener has not carefully collected all of the seed pods the previous fall.
This time we’ll focus on another Cassia that is native to the Eastern United States (Florida west to Texas and north to Massachusetts). Partridge Pea, Cassia fasciculata (also known as Chamaecrista fasciculata) is a sun-loving annual that grows in poor sandy or gravely soil. From July through September, the flowers create a yellow blanket across rural roadsides. The other common name, “Sleeping Pea” refers to the leaves, which fold shut at night. The blue-green pinnate leaves are “sensitive” and also immediately close up when touched.
The showy one inch diameter flowers are bright yellow with a red blotch at the base and dark red anthers. They grow in the leaf axils all along the 2 foot sprawling stem and provide sweet nectar for appreciative bees and butterflies. The amateur botanist may doubt that this large blossom is in the pea family as it lacks the familiar keel of other Leguminosea flowers and resembles a small Camilla. Fall brings reassurance with the growth of long thin pea pods filled with miniature black lima beans. These beans are poisonous to livestock if consumed in large quantities, but birds relish them, hence the name, Partridge Pea.
The seeds are best sown in mid-fall; plants emerge the next spring. Once established, you’ll never have to plant again because it enthusiastically self-sows. Like other plants with taproots, it resists transplanting, but this same taproot confers drought-tolerance. Seed sources can be found on the Internet by Googling the botanical name. If Partridge Pea grows in your region, make a note of the yellow flowers’ location along the highway and return in October to collect the pea pods. However, be sure to first check your state’s regulations on roadside flowers before gathering.
Partridge Pea is a winner with two months of stunning yellow flowers that provide nectar for many pollinators while the various sulfur caterpillars feast on the feathery leaves. Even the most fastidious gardener can welcome this beautiful native plant to the front of the flower bed.
|USDA Hardiness Zone||
Summer to fall
24 to 40 inches
Full sun to part shade
Medium to dry
Native Range for Partridge Pea - Chamaecrista fasciculata