Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Partidge Pea, a Fabulous Fabaceae Goes To Seed

 I love plants that make a big show and Chamaecrista fasciculata/Partridge Pea out did itself this year. I scattered seed (with inoculant) a few years ago and it's grown from a few plants to a large and floriferously beautiful patch. If you want a long blooming plant (mid June to today) that also attracts butterflies (Cloudless sulfur) and bees then this annual is a great choice.

Cloudless sulfur caterpillar

Partridge Pea has been a Wildflower Wednesday star twice and most regular readers are familiar with its wonderfulness:

 Here's what I love about it!

  • long bloom season
  • pollinator magnet
  • pretty flowers
  • ferny leaves that add texture to a garden bed
  • host plant for butterfly caterpillars. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars will feed on both the Partridge Pea’s leaves and its flowers. You can tell which the caterpillar concentrated on by its color, which may be yellow or green. 
  • Nitrogen left in ground from decaying matter improves soil fertility.
  • ecologically valuable 


For September WW,  I want to change directions and focus on how easy it is to grow this delightful annual from seed. Seed growing wildflowers from purchased seeds is becoming more important than ever these days, since many of us are not going out and about during COVID. Seeds are easy to come by on the internet and if you're lucky friends can also share them with you.

Seed Collection

As it happens, it's time to collect seeds from my Partridge Peas before they are flung all over the driveway...And, I do mean flung! I picked a few of the earliest ripe pods and set them on the kitchen counter only to find the little rectangular seeds everywhere. It seems that as the pods continued to ripen they twisted open and the seeds exploded onto the counter.

Here's the scoop, when the seed pods are ripe they twist as they dry, splitting the pod open along its seams flinging the seeds into the air to land near and far from the plant.

 Plants have clever mechanisms to insure their continuity.

Too early to collect seeds

Like most other legumes/Fabaceaes form pods in late summer /early fall. The time to collect seeds is just before they are ready to twist open. Since the seed pods don't all ripen at once, I can collect individual brown seed pods by clipping them off with scissors. Yes, some pop open, but, I usually manage to get most of the seeds into my collection bowl. 

cover your bowl if the pods haven't all opened

If the entire stalk is ripe grab the bottom of the stalk and pull your hand up the stalk. You may have to cut some of the pods off with scissors anyway or you can clip off the stalk, but I like to leave the stalk to decay (it provides cover for critters and the decaying taproot can improve the soil). I don't save my seeds to plant in spring, I fall sow them where I want them to grow. This makes the most sense for me. If you purchase seed or are given seed then you can fall/winter sow or if you live further south, you can treat them and wait till very early spring. Don't worry, inoculant is not always necessary, especially if you have fertile soil.

  • Cold Stratify Seeds: Step by Step Process
  • Place a 1/4 cup of sand (or more) in a mixing bowl. ...
  • Add your desired seed amount to the sand. ...
  • Place sand/seed mixture in a ziploc bag and seal.
  • Label the variety and date clearly on the bag.
  • Place in the refrigerator for 10-30 or more day, depending upon seed type and requirements, before planting.

grasses, Rudbeckias, Phlox can hold their own against Partridge pea

Once established, you’ll never have to plant again because it enthusiastically self-sows. Ignore folks who call it invasive, it's not, but it is as I said earlier enthusiastic (okay, it can be aggressive, but, more aggressive plants can eventually crowd it out). Just yank out those you don't want or dig them up to share with a friend. Partridge pea does have a tap root and has been reported to be resistant to transplanting. I haven't found that to be true, but, then, I do move them to containers when they are smaller, and let them get established, then plant them. The taproot does several things-helps them resist drought and as the plants die back and decay it improves soil fertility/adds nitrogen to soil.


As I said earlier, Partridge pea is a prolific self-seeder and is easily propagated. I scattered purchased seed (Prairie Moon Nursery) several years ago. They came with inoculant (helps legumes grow) since then, I just let them drop their seeds in fall and sprout in the spring. I did not scarify my seeds. The winter weather takes care of scarification. The seeds have a hard outer shell that needs to be thinned or cracked to allow water to enter and freezing and thawing over winter takes care of it. Water is that magic elixir that makes seeds grow.

If you aren't winter sowing then you can stratify your seed. Partridge Pea only takes ten days of moist cold treatment to stratify, please note you will have to scarify the seed, too (nick the seed so water can get in) The hard outer shell must be thinned (with emory board) or gently cracked to improve chances for germination. After their cold period is up plant them and cover with soil...less than 1/2 inch deep. Again, I just tossed mine in the fall and most germinated.


It is an excellent plant to use in disturbed areas as it tends to establish quickly. Partridge pea is also a nitrogen-fixer, so it may improve and enrich soils, allowing for the introduction of more demanding plants into your landscape.


Family: Fabaceae 

Common Name: Partridge Pea, sleeping plant, showy partridge pea, prairie senna, large-flowered sensitive-pea, dwarf cassia, partridge pea senna, locust weed, golden cassia. 

Botanical Name: Chamaecrista fasciculata 

Annual: plant in fall with appropriate inoculant 

Range: native to the Southeast and throughout much of the U.S. east of the Rockies. 

Light Requirements: Full Sun, Half Sun / Half Shade 

Flower Color: Yellow with a touch of red Height: 24-36" tall Bloom Time: July and I hope into the fall 

Fruit: a straight, narrow pod 1½ to 2½ inches long, which splits along 2 sutures as it dries; the pod sides spiral to expel the seeds some distance from the parent plant. I always wondered why seed pods of legumes were twisted!  

Seed: Fertile flowers mature into a flat straight pod that is green and slightly hairy, turning dark brown and smooth at maturity at which time they split with a twisting action which can fling the seeds away from the plant.

Propagation: They require at least 10 days of cold stratification for germination plus scarification. An legume inoculum helps. I plant in the fall without any treatment and let nature do the work.  Fall/winter sow to make your life easy.

Host Plant: Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow, Ceraunus Blue and Gray Hairstreak  caterpillars. A good nectar source that also attracts many pollinators in addition to butterflies. (source) 

Comments:  It's used in the USA for cover cropping, ornate flowers in native gardens, honey crop, as an annual reseeding legume for restoration and conservation plantings, and wildlife food. Its seeds are a favorite food for many birds, including bobwhite quail and endangered prairie chickens, it provides cover for wildlife, is a pioneer plant in poor and disturbed areas, improving soils as a nitrogen fixer. It grows in dense stands and the decaying stalks provide covering for birds, small mammals and waterfowl.

I hope this helps you decide to plant this delightful beauty! Happy Wildflower Wednesday.


Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. I am so glad you stopped by. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants; it's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Excellent wildflower! I first planted partridge pea in a mini meadow area to fix the soil that had been compacted from heavy equipment when we made our kitchen garden. I love that it self sows around our garden. I love watching the bees buzz around the flowers. Makes my heart sing! As always, thanks for hosting!

  2. You have a beautiful patch of Partridge Pea, Gail! I think I might need to add this one, too. I really like the texture that Wild Senna has added to the garden in a similar way.

  3. Hmmmmm, I have always thought that it needs full sun because that is where I usually see it growing. I love the look and of course all it would induce into the garden. I will give it a try the next time I get a chance at getting plants or seeds.

  4. Definitely a great plant. Wish I had a good place for it. Fortunately I do have the related but much larger Wild Senna.

  5. Gail, I saw partridge pea growing in a park near here. I'd never seen it in person before. I think I'll go see if I can find any seeds. It may be too late, but it's still fun. Thanks for the info on the cold stratification. I'd never heard of the sand idea. A good one.~~Dee


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson