Partridge Pea Plant (Chamaecrista fasciculata) Quick Facts:
Host plant to Ceraunus Blue, Cloudless Sulphur, Little Yellow, Sleepy Orange, Gray Hairstreak, and Io Moth
Great year-around host plant in deep south
Not a significant nectar plant for butterflies but loved by bees for the pollen, and birds for the seed
Self seeding annual in northern states, short-lived perennial in deep south
Native to midwestern, eastern, and southern US
Grows/reseeds in USDA zones 4-9
Full to part sun
Adaptable to a wide range of soils but best in well drained soil like sandy soil or sandy loam
Eye-catching yellow flowers with dark maroon stamens followed by attractive maroon seed pods
Leaves “sleep”, close at night
Can spread if not maintained
Height 1-3 ft
Space 18″ apart
Long bloom season, Summer through late Fall.
I Think I Love You!
The Partridge Pea is the rockstar of the pea family; a lovely legume that offers many benefits to your garden. It’s a very undemanding plant, for one thing. It grows in full- to part-sun and will tolerate most landscapes (even somewhat salty ones) if they drain well. It does not have issues with disease if its habitat is not too damp. Not only does it grow in marginal soils, but its nitrogen-fixing capabilities also allow Partridge Pea to actually improve the surrounding dirt.
It establishes itself quickly, and readily self-seeds. If you have recently built a house or done some remodeling, you may have areas where heavy equipment has obliterated plants and compacted the soil. Partridge Pea to the rescue! Winter sow seeds or stratify them for about two weeks before planting at a depth of half an inch. Mature plants grow 1-3 feet tall and spread about 18 inches. Although the plants do spread enthusiastically, they will not prevent other plants in the area from thriving, even those planted after Partridge Pea has established its turf.
Partridge Pea is drought-tolerant (thanks to its stout taproot), but also grows successfully on the banks of ponds and creeks, where it will have an opportunity to show off the erosion control the plant is known for. Its vibrant yellow blossoms emerge in mid-summer and remain until first frost. Try it with the Butterfly Milkweed’s orange flowers for a lively color contrast!
A Little Something for Everyone
Who will be pleased to see a Partridge Pea planting? Pollinators, for starters! The blossoms tend to be abuzz with bees (the USDA recommends the plant for enhanced honey production) and butterflies sometimes sip nectar from the plant. Partridge Pea also serves as a host plant for Cloudless Giant Sulphurs, Orange Sulphurs, Gray Hairstreaks, Little Yellows, Ceraunas Blues, and Io Moths. It is fun to remember that one of the plant’s alternate names is Sleeping Pea–and then to learn that it is a host plant for the Sleepy Orange Butterfly!
Deer and rabbits tend to browse the foliage, which, of course, makes them happy. If that news doesn’t gladden your own heart and you have hordes of hungry mammals nearby, you may need to investigate some protection for the plant. Or just plant plenty!
The Partridge Pea’s seed abundance makes it an important cold season food source for songbirds and game birds. Look for bobwhites, turkeys, quail, pheasant, and mallards. The endangered prairie chicken relishes the seeds, and so do grouse.
Not What You Expected
Partridge Pea has several unusual features. Its feathery leaves, which resemble mimosa tree leaves or ferns, fold up at night and when touched–hence the names “Sensitive Plant” and “Sleeping Pea.” When a Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar feeds on those leaves, its body will turn green, but if it eats the flowers, the body turns yellow.
And those long-lasting yellow flowers? They are not actually supplying nectar–the flowers themselves only provide pollen. Partridge Pea keeps its nectar in tiny pots called “extrafloral nectaries” at the base of each leaf.
Finally, seeds form in numerous seedpods that develop as the warm season ends. When the pods turn dry and brown, they will eventually explode apart, flinging seeds as far as three feet away.
C’mon, Get Happy!
No, it’s not a member of the Partridge Family, but the Partridge Pea is a harmonious addition to your garden that will be appreciated by all your neighborhood wildlife, especially pollinators. And you can appreciate the fact that every plant and seed offered by Joyful Butterfly is safe for all pollinators–always!