Partridge Pea – Grow and Care Guide

  • Partridge Pea colony

The Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate) is an annual flower that is Native to the Eastern half of North America.  This plant is an incredibly valuable food source to a large number of organisms in our environment.  It is a native annual that will produce many flowers from the middle of summer until the fall.  These flowers are absolutely loved by bees.  In the mornings if I go out to where my partridge peas are I can hear the bees buzzing like crazy visiting all of the flowers.

This plant should be a must for anyone wanting to provide nectar to bees, improve their soil, or attract birds and other wildlife.

Partridge Pea Facts

  • Partridge Pea is a member of the legume family, and can fix nitrogen to the soil
  • This plant is a colony-forming Annual, meaning it will die back in the winter. But this also means that it will flower for a very long period.
  • Partridge Pea is a larval hose to the Little Yellow, Sleepy Orange, and Cloudless Sulpher Butterflies
  • The seeds are consumed by various game birds
  • The seed pods are grown under tension, and if broken will twist themselves into a corkscrew abruptly. This results in the seed being thrown or flung some distance from the plant

Partridge Pea General Description and Characteristicspartridge pea grow reference table

Partridge pea grows 1-2’ tall with small fern like leaves and yellow flowers.  The best way I can describe it is a cross between a fern and yellow flower, however these prefer full sun.  The leaves are at the top of small branches and are opposite.  The flowers have 4-5 yellow petals and red centers.

Some species will have their leaves collapse when touched, giving rise to another common name of ‘sensitive plant’.  However, I have grown dozens of these over the years (and pulled hundreds of seedlings) and never witnessed the leaves collapsing from contact with my hands.  Although the leaves do always seem to close up at night.  I often wonder if the ‘sensitive plant’ name refers to the seed pods, which fling their seed wildly when opened much like Jewel Weed.

This plant produces a small taproot that if left in the ground, will eventually breakdown and improve fertility. This ‘self-composting’ will add organic matter to your soil, which is a benefit for any/all soil.  A so-called fertilization for years to come, in addition to any leftover nitrogen the roots left (since it is a legume).

Scientific name of Partridge Pea

The scientific name of Partridge Pea is Chamaecrista fasciculate

Partridge Pea Growing Conditions

This plant is tough in that it can grow in virtually any soil that is well drained.  In my experience, it grows in horrible rocky clay soil and thrives.  It most likely thrives due to its ability to fertilize itself by fixing nitrogen to the soil (legume family).

The plant prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade.  As with most plants, if it is in shade you can expect smaller plants with fewer blooms.  But I’ve grown them in shade for several years.  And I often see seedlings pop up a long ways from where I had plants the previous years, sometimes in shady locations.  They seem to survive just fine, if only in a reduced size.

Garden Uses of Partridge Pea

This plant can be used in normal flowerbeds, but you must be aware that it can self-seed like mad.  So, take heed of this before planting.  It will do quite well in a backyard micro-prairie, or wildflower garden, where self-seeding is a benefit. It doesn’t withstand competition well though, as once other perennial flowers/plants get larger they will encroach on the Partridge Pea, reducing the number of plants year over year.

partridge pea seedlings spreading
This is two years since I had Partridge Pea in my front bed. I still get dozens of seedlings each year. Easy to pull when young.

==>See how to make your own micro-prairie by clicking on the image below!

Micro Prairie

Partridge Pea can be used to naturalize/colonize a disturbed site and prevent erosion.  If you are interested in creating wildlife habitat, then Partridge Pea is a good choice.  It has been found to provide much cover for wildlife, and various game birds from quail to turkey eat the seeds.

Growing From Seed

To grow Partridge Pea from seed you should either winter-sow or stratify your seed.  If stratifying (30 days) manually, you will likely need to scarify the seed as well.

Partridge Pea seeds have a hard outer shell that will prevent germination unless it has been thinned or cracked to allow water to enter.  Winter-sowing (planting your seed in the fall/winter outside) in moist soil will generally accomplish the scarification, as the freezing temperatures plus moisture will allow cracking of the outer shell.

Partridge Pea seed planting depth

Plant Partridge Pea seeds approximately ¼” (6 mm) deep.  Germination should occur sometime in the Spring.Partridge Pea Seedling 2

How to save Partridge Pea seeds

Partridge Pea plants will form pods (similar looking to bean bods, or pea pods) in late summer / early Fall.  When the pods are brown, collect them, taking care to not let them open.  Pods will be attached to the stalk of the plants.  Grab them with your entire hand, then while holding the stalk with your other hand, pull on the pod.  This is necessary, as if there is any break in the fibers that run lengthwise in the pod, a twisting action will occur.  This twisting action will violently turn the pod into a corkscrew shape, and throw the seed some distance away in the process.

Partridge Pea 2

Partridge Pea Fauna Associations

Additionally the foliage of this plant is browsed by deer and rabbits when young.  So, it is good to have a larger population.  With some local ecotypes, the leaves will close up when touched – hence another common name, ‘sensitive plant’.  The leaves also close up at night.

A large colony of these can provide cover for game birds and other ground nesting birds.  The seeds are eaten by birds and other animals.  This plant self seeds quite aggressively if in an ornamental flower garden setting, so you’be been warned.

Disease Problems

As I stated, I’ve grown dozens of this plant over the years and have never noticed any disease or problems.  I’ve read that it can get mildew, but have never seen any indication of it on any of my plants.  It is generally maintenance free.  The only maintenance is if you need to pull unwanted seedlings the following Spring.

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