Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Plant Profile: Partridge pea

Common Name: partridge pea, sleeping plant

Scientific Name: Chamaecrista fasciculata (Michx.) Greene

Form:  Annual legume (bean)

Height/Spread: 1-3 ft tall, spread similar to height.

Leaves: Alternate, evenly pinnately compound olive green leaves with small (up to 2cm) spine tipped leaflets. Leaflets fold along the rachis when touched or in response to nightfall. Two permanent stipules and a small disc shaped extra floral nectary gland are at the base of each petiole.

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Stems: Smooth and green becoming reddish brown more haired with maturity.

Flowers: Bright yellow 5 petaled flowers with red markings at the base of the petal. Stamens are sometimes red in color. One petal often folds in over stamen and anther. Flowers arise from leaf axil with the stem.


Fruit and Seeds: Flat 2-3 inch long legume (bean pod) producing dark brown flattened seeds.


Habitat: Partridge pea is characteristic of dry upland plant communities. Can be found along the edges of disturbed sites.


Range: Throughout the Eastern and Central United States.

Shade Tolerance: Somewhat tolerant.

Fire Tolerance: Habitat and establishment may be improved through fire.

Wildlife Use: Partridge pea is important as the larval host plant of several sulphur butterflies (Giant Cloudless, Little yellow, and Orange Sulphurs). (Check out Kristen’s Butterfly blog Lepcurious for a post on other host plants for sulphur butterflies) Seeds of partridge pea are important part of the diet of quail particularly in the Midwest. The plant as a whole is preferred white tailed deer browse.

DSCN9323 DSCN9314 Cloudless Sulphur larvae

Field ID: Partridge peas are in bloom throughout the summer months and are easily recognized by their bright yellow flowers and small pinnate foliage.

Information: Previously known as Cassia fasciculata, Chamaecrista fasciculata is a nitrogen fixing legume. It is commonly planted for soil stabilization and improvement projects. The small nectar gland at the base of each leaf attracts ant species which may in turn protect the plant from herbivores and plant damaging insects. Partridge pea has a long history in Native American culture as a medicinal plant but; partridge pea can be a purgative in humans and is toxic to livestock. So once again, let’s leave this one for the birds, bees, and butterflies.

References and Additional Resources:

  • Austin, Daniel F. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 2004
  • Miller, James H., and Karl V. Miller. Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife Uses. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press. 2005
  • Taylor, Walter K. The Guide to Florida Wildflowers. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company. 1992
  • NPIN Native Plant Database Chamaecrista fasciculata
  • Illinois Wild Flowers Chamaecrista fasciculata
  • USDA Plants Profile Chamaecrista fasciculata

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