Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, September 7, 2012

Partridge Pea

Sometimes not weeding your garden has its benefits. This summer we left an area of the garden go "wild". What we discovered is that a native volunteer found its way into our garden.


This is a Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) sometimes known as a sensitive plant or sleeping plant. The leaves close at night and are also sensitive to the touch, hence their moniker. It is a native to the Eastern United States and grows as an annual in sun and poor soil.


I found it flowering in July and August, attracting pollinators from bees to butterflies as well as other insects.


If the blooms don't convince you that this wildflower is a member of the pea family (because frankly they don't resemble those blooms) then thin pea pods that show up in fall will. Game birds and song birds readily eat the seeds, hence the name Partridge Pea.

The Partridge Pea's long taproot makes it drought tolerant and also an excellent plant for erosion control; however, because of the long taproot it does not transplant well. It usually reseeds easily but since I would like to add this plant to other areas of my garden I will need to gather some seeds which is best done in mid-fall.

Four species of butterflies use this plant a a host: Orange Sulphur, Cloudless Sulphur, Gray Hairstreak and Little Yellow. All four of these are living in my region.


This is the Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar which seems to like the pea pods just as well as the leaves.


I found 10 of these caterpillars munching away at the leaves, pods and stalks. Once they are big and fat they will sneak off to make their chrysalis and become the Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly. Despite their bright coloring these caterpillars camouflage amazingly well on this plant, their colors blending with the bright yellow blooms and blue green foliage.


This plant is definitely a winner with two months of blooming flowers providing nectar for the pollinators while also serving as a host plant for sulfur caterpillars plus a source of food for the birds. This beautiful native plant is moving to the front of the flower bed in my garden!

28 comments:

  1. i was thrilled to spot a few partridge pea plants in a ditch near our home one year here! had to do all sorts of internet searches before i found what they were. so pretty. those caterpillars are pretty, too!

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    1. They are common in ditches around here and its a good thing since they help with erosion control. I have been looking around in the empty lots around our house to see where this one may have come from but haven't found anything yet.

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  2. I think I have this plant in my 'garden' (I guess I should say on my property) though I am not sure if I have seen it bloom. Need to pay better attention. What a cool cat too, again, don't remember having seen one of them either. Interesting post, love it!!

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    1. Thanks Janet! I admit I didn't really pay much attention to this wildflower until it ended up in my garden. Now I am a big fan!

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  3. This is a wonderful plant and I definitely need some in my garden. It does grow in this area. Maybe next spring...

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    1. I don't know how easy it is to find this plant. I don't recall ever seeing it at any native plant sales before, do you? I am going to try to save some seeds if the caterpillars don't eat them all :)

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  4. We are doing the same thing--leaving an area untouched. I haven't found anything as interesting as this plant growing. Butterfly caterpillars fascinate me.

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    1. I was super excited to see cats on there. I was wondering since I saw some sulphur butterflies on it a few weeks ago.

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  5. What a treat...I let some areas go wild and many natives volunteer and set up residence...they make a better gardener than I do sometimes...love that caterpillar and those flowers

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    1. So true Donna! Many times Mother Nature has a better plan than I do! I make a point of learning from her wisdom!

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  6. And again I say, I hope you get your wonderful photos published somewhere...

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    1. THANK YOU!!! I have had some photos published upon request but I have not pursued it actively. I am thinking of looking into doing something with my photos thanks to friends encouragement and support like yours!

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  7. Partridge pea is widely recommended for Conservation Reserve acres here, but I've never seen it growing in the wild.

    That's the first time I've seen a cloudless sulfur caterpillar! Such a pretty thing - almost prettier than the butterfly.

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    1. I see cloudless sulphurs in my garden every summer but this is the first time for the caterpillars. I am so excited! Apparently their chrysalis is rather unusual too so hopefully, I'll be able to find one. If I do I'll be sure to post!

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  8. I, too, get very excited about finding native volunteers. It happens in the woods behind my garden quite frequently. I'm not familiar with Patridge Pea, and I always thought of Mimosa as Sensitive Plant. They have similar foliage, but apparently are distinct, unrelated? plants. What a great find for you!

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    1. It is interesting you say that because my husband thought it looked like mimosa too however I don't believe they are related. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower database they grow in the midwest too.

      http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CHFA2

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  9. Oh what a great post and I love that it hosts caterpillars..Michelle

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    1. Thanks Michelle...I am really looking closer at the plants I am adding to my garden now and those that do double duty (nectar and host) are high on my list!

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  10. I've never heard of a partridge pea before. It's nice to see yellow at this time of year when the weather is starting to cool down.

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    1. A cool front came in this weekend and it was actually crisp this morning and unseasonably cool (more like November temps). Only in the mid-80s all week...my kind of gardening weather!

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  11. What a great find! good reason not to do the weeding (really I'm not being lazy, I'm just leaving the area for native plants to volunteer themselves!)

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  12. These are so pretty. We actually have a big field full of them not to far from my house (which at some point I'll do a post on). They are pretty by themselves, stunning en masse! Love the photos of the caterpillars! We have Cloudless Sulphurs around, but I've never seen the caterpillar before

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    1. I am looking forward to your post! I hope that by collecting some seeds I will have more next year and it will provide more of an impact. This is my first time seeing these caterpillars too.

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  13. Some of the plants I transplanted from a vacant commercial lot have given me a few surprises also. Once these little balls of soil I transplanted received a little enriched soil and water newly discovered treasures popped up. Like Indian grass, side outs gramma, big bluestem, vetch, June grass and some other things I haven't figured out yet.

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    1. I think the discovery is the exciting part! Sounds like you got a treasure from that vacant lot!

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  14. I never saw a cloudless caterpillar, thanks. Now I will keep an eye out for them. That is a nice looking tree too. We don't have them here though. I love the angle of your last photo. So pretty.

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    1. Thanks Donna! A single plant doesn't really reflect the beauty of these plants. I plan to collect seeds and hope that next year to have a bigger impact, especially if I can add them to my pollinator garden area where they will have other plants to accentuate them. Hopefully then I will see even more of these cats too!

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  15. What a cool plant! I don't think I've ever seen them. I love how colorful the caterpillars are. :o) Letting a section of your garden go wild was so smart!

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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