Partridge Pea 101 – Complete Grow and Care Guide


If you want to attract bees to your yard, Partridge Pea is the flower for you! This native wildflower blooms for months in Summer/Fall with interesting foliage. I’ve been growing this flower for years, and can share what I’ve learned with you.

In this article:

What is Partridge Pea

Partridge Pea is a annual wildflower native to North America that blooms yellow blooms underneath fern-like foliage during Summer. Scientifically known as Chamaecrista fasciculata, it grows about 2′ tall in full sun and well drained soil. It self-seeds anywhere, but particularly in disturbed areas.

In addition to being pretty, Partridge Pea is valuable to wildlife. It hosts at least 3 species of butterfly, is visited by many pollinators, and attracts game birds who eat the seeds. As an annual wildflower and member of the legume family, it will die out each winter and have to reseed itself. Initially a dense stand will reduce to sporadic plants after several seasons as perennials establish themselves. [1]

Native Range of Partridge Pea

Reference Table

Scientific NameChamaecrista fasciculata
Common Name(s)Partridge Pea, Sensitive Fern, Sensitive Partridge Pea
Native Range, USDA ZoneNorth America (East of Rocky Mountains), USDA Zone 3-9
Bloom TimeSummer-Fall
Bloom Duration, Color3 Months, Yellow Flower
Height1′-3′ (15-90 cm)
Spacing / Spread1′ (15 cm)
Light RequirementsFull Sun
Soil TypesWell drained
MoistureDry to Medium Moisture
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, butterflies, seeds are eaten by birds / Sleepy Orange Butterfly, Cloudless Sulfur, Little Orange Sulfur

What are the Benefits of Partridge Pea

Bees!

Partridge Pea is one of the most popular flowers when it comes to bees! I can’t stress this enough. My Partridge Pea patch is ‘abuzz’ from dawn until dusk with bees. If you blindfolded me and walked me past my wildflowers, I would know when I was near Partridge Pea by the sound of bumblebees buzzing away.

A happy bumblebee!

Butterflies

In addition to being a nectar source, Partridge Pea also hosts at least 3 different species of butterfly. Caterpillars of the Little Orange, Cloudless Sulfur, and Sleepy Orange Butterflies all feed on the foliage.

Improve Soil

As the common name implies, Partridge Pea is a member of the legume family. So it fill fix nitrogen to the soil, which is a natural way of improving your soil. Additionally, as an annual flower the short taproot of Partridge Pea breaks up soil, but will decompose and naturally compost in place each year. [1]

Beauty

Partridge Pea really has a unique appearance in that it looks like a cross between a fern and yellow wildflower. The foliage is interesting to look at and is almost mimosa-like, while the yellow flowers add great color for most of the Summer.

Game Birds

Like all native plants, Partridge Pea is very beneficial to the environment. The seed of Partridge Pea is eaten by numerous species of game birds. It will attract turkey, grouse, and quail. This is one of the reasons that Partridge Pea is often included in food plot seed mixes.

Identification and Characteristics of Partridge Pea

On average Partridge Pea will grow to a height of two feet. Individual specimens will exceed or be a bit shorter depending on available conditions. Taller plants may flop or sprawl, while shorter plants are erect.

In the wild in short meadows you will often find plants spaced 3-6′ from one another. While in disturbed areas you can find dense colonies.

Partridge Pea Stem

The stem of Partridge Pea begin as light green, turning red to brown as the plant ages. They are smooth (without hairs) and round. There will be branching on the stem.

Partridge Pea Leaf

Leaves of Partridge Pea are alternate along the stalk, compound, and resemble a fern or mimosa leaves. There will be 10-20 leaflets about 5/8″ long by 3/8″ wide. Individual leaflets have an oblong shape and smooth margin. They are of medium green color.

Partridge Pea Flower

Flowers are about 1″ diameter (2.5 cm) with 5 petals, and bright yellow in color. There are about 10 red to purple stamens in the center of each flower. Blooms begin in early to Mid-Summer, and will continue into Fall.

After flowering pods develop that contain seeds. The pods begin with a light green color, turning brown as the seed matures. As the seed pod dries a tension is built up in the pod. When the pod finally begins to open, this tension is released with the pod violently twisting in a corkscrew like manner. The twisting action flings seed 1-5′ distance.

Partridge Pea Root System

The root system of Partridge Pea consists of a short taproot about 6-12″ deep.

Grow and Care for Partridge Pea

To successfully grow and care for the Partridge Pea, plant it in full sun and well draining soil. If you plant it in conditions that it prefers, it will flower beautifully.

Sunlight Requirements

For sunlight requirements, Partridge Pea prefers full sun, which is at least 6 hours per day. The more sun you can provide the plant, the better. But it will tolerate partial shade, which is 4-6 hours per day.

Soil Requirements

Partridge Pea is very versatile in that it can grow in almost any soil that drains well. From sand to loam to clay, it can grow well. Just make sure the soil is well-drained.

Moisture Requirements

Partridge Pea can tolerate dry to medium moist conditions.

How to Grow Partridge Pea from Seed

Partridge Pea isn’t too hard to grow from seed, given it’s propensity to self-seed! But if you are just starting to grow this plant, here are some step by step instructions.

Before you begin, note that Partridge Pea has a hard outer shell. It is best to scarify this seed with sandpaper prior to sowing. Germination rates can also be improved by winter sowing or cold stratifying the seed for 10-20 days.

  1. Fill a container with moist potting soil
  2. Plant scarified Partridge Pea seeds about 1/2″ deep (12 mm)
  3. Place the container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade
  4. Keep the soil moist, but not soppy wet

Germination should occur within a couple of weeks after temperatures have warmed up.

Partridge Pea Seedling

Purchase Seed

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Partridge Pea Seeding Rate

If grown in a field or food plot, Partridge Pea should be seeded at a rate of 13.4 lb per acre per the USDA.

How to save seed from the Partridge Pea

To save seed, wait for pods to turn brown. Then, go collect them (before they open) and place them in a brown paper bag.

Store the bag somewhere cool and dry for about a month. The pods should open up on their own during this time. Then just dump the contents onto a plate and separate the pods from the seed.

Store Partridge Pea seed in an envelop or sealed container (if fully dried) in a cool dry place.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Partridge Pea

Bees

Partridge Pea is primarily pollinated by long-tongued bees such as bumblebees, honeybees, and leaf-cutter bees. It is extremely popular with bees, and particularly honeybees and bumblebees.

Butterflies

There are several species of butterfly whose caterpillars will feed on the leaves. These are the Little Orange, Cloudless Sulfur, and Little Sulfur.

Other Insects

There are several beetles that feed on the foliage of Partridge Pea. So, in addition to bees and butterflies Partridge Pea also hosts several other beneficial insects.

Birds

The seeds are eaten by Turkey, Quail, Dove, Grouse, and other wildlife. [2] The foliage will also provide cover for many smaller game birds and their young.

Deer and rabbits

The foliage of Partridge Pea will be browsed by deer and rabbits on a limited basis.

Disease

I’ve never seen any form of disease on Partridge Pea. General fungus suches as leaf spot or mildew can occur in humid environments, but the effects are generally cosmetic only. Just make sure you don’t plant it in poorly-draining soil as root rot could occur.

Where you can buy Partridge Pea

Partridge Pea plants will not be sold in normal nurseries or garden centers. The best way to get partridge pea plants is to purchase seed and grow them yourself.

Uses of Partridge Pea

Garden Uses of Partridge Pea

For garden uses, Partridge Pea is best suited for a wildflower garden, meadow, micro-prairie or border. It’s propensity to self-seed prolifically make it a poor choice for a formal mulched flower bed.

Companion Plants

Some good choices of companion plants for Partridge Pea would include anything that likes full sun and well-draining soil. It also helps if the companion plant isn’t too tall or shades out Partridge Pea. Some plants that I grow near Partridge Pea include the following:

Is Partridge Pea Invasive?

Partridge Pea is invasive in disturbed and bare areas. It also can become invasive in a mulched flower bed.

Partridge Pea that has spread in a disturbed wildflower area and lawn

Food Plots

Partridge Pea is also an excellent choice to include in any food plot seed mix, as it will provide cover and food for many species of birds. It truly is a valuable plant for the ecosystem and wildlife.

Agriculture

As it is a legume, Partridge Pea makes an excellent cover crop. [3] It’s nitrogen fixing nature and short taproot can greatly improve soil and add fertility. [4]

In addition to a cover crop, research has found that Partridge Pea can attract natural pest predators. [5] It has been recommended to be planted as a border around certain crop fields. [6]

Honey Production

The USDA has recommended Partridge Pea as a plant that is good for honey production [4]. In fact honeybee colonies benefit greatly from being near the Partridge Pea.

Erosion

The ability of Partridge Pea to establish itself quickly make it a great choice for erosion control of banks and disturbed areas. It’s self-seeding nature also ensure it will keep growing year after year until perennial grasses and flowers gradually overtake the area.

Partridge Pea Toxicity

Partridge Pea leaves contain a cathartic substance that can be toxic to cattle. [2] [7] So, it should not be used as grazing material.

Native American Uses of Partridge Pea

The Seminole and Cherokee both used the Partridge Pea plant. [8] A decoction was used for nausea, an infusion for fainting, and a root medicine was made to keep people awake.

Read More Native Plants Here

References:

[1] – Ozell A. Atkins, W. C. Young. The Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, a Promising Plant for Soil Conservation, Agronomy Journal, Volume33, Issue 5, May 1941, Pages 471-472 https://doi.org/10.2134/agronj1941.00021962003300050010x

[2] – United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 14JUN2021. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/txpmcrb10781.pdf

[3] – United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved 14JUN2021. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/plantmaterials/home/?cid=NRCSEPRD1449247

[4] – Morris, J.B. Showy partridge pea [Chamaecrista fasciculata (Michx.) Greene] with potential for cultivation as a multi-functional species in the United States. Genet Resour Crop Evol 59, 1577–1581 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10722-012-9881-z

[5] – Lauren G. Hunt, Galen Dively, Cerruti R.R. Hooks, Flowering Chamaecrista fasciculata borders enhance natural enemy populations and improve grain quality in field corn, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Volume 306, 2021, 107193, ISSN 0167-8809, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2020.107193.

[6] – Laura C. Moore, Alan W. Leslie, Cerruti R.R. Hooks, Galen P. Dively, Can plantings of partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) enhance beneficial arthropod communities in neighboring soybeans?, Biological Control, Volume 128, 2019, Pages 6-16, ISSN 1049-9644, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocontrol.2018.09.008.

[7] – University of Kentucky, retrieved 14JUN2021 https://grazer.ca.uky.edu/content/partridge-pea-or-chamaecrista-fasciculata

[8] – Native American Ethnobotany Database. Retrieved 14JUN2021. http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=Chamaecrista+

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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