Partridge Pea Information

Partridge Pea Seed Giveaway

Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is an annual plant native to most of the eastern U.S. It grows to about 2 feet high, with an abundance of cheery yellow flowers in the latter half of the summer that are favorites of bees. Many native plant gardeners like it as a “bridge” plant, helping suppress weeds and fill in spaces between perennials until the latter become well established. Though it’s just an annual, Partridge Pea readily self-seeds, so it’ll come back year after year. (By the same token, don’t plant it where you don’t want it next year unless you’re prepared to weed it out.)

One of us acquired four pounds of seed (the minimum order) from Ernst Conservation Seeds of Pennsylvania, and we have a lot to give away! If you’d like to give it a try, there is a box of seed packets on the porch at 25 Parker Street in Lexington April 19-May 2. Please stop by and take one!

Planting Instructions

Partridge Pea is easy to grow. It does well in medium to dry soils, even poor ones, and prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade.

You’ll notice that there seems to be a bit of black powder coating the seeds. Partridge Pea is a legume and, like many legumes, forms a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia bacteria in its root nodules. The bacteria can take atmospheric nitrogen and turn it into a form the plant can use (called “nitrogen fixation”), allowing the plant to do well in soils low in nitrogen. Often legume seed is sold with an inoculant of this bacterium mixed in, in case the Rhizobia population is low in the soil where it’s planted. The bacterium is harmless to humans. Learn more here.

Like many natives, Partridge Pea evolved a thick seed coat so the seeds wouldn’t germinate with the first warm, wet weather after ripening; otherwise, they might germinate in the fall and be killed by winter frost. If you had the seed last fall, you could have sown it directly in your garden then and looked forward to plants germinating this spring as the weather warmed. Since you didn’t, many purveyors of Partridge Pea seed recommend a short period (10 days) of what’s called “cold stratification,” which artificially speeds up the process of breaking dormancy. Some believe it isn’t needed at all and you can sow directly into the ground in early spring. Read more about stratification here and here.

You have several options for planting your seeds, and you might like to experiment with more than one:

● Sow directly onto the ground (any time from late April to early June), cover lightly with a ¼-½ inch of soil, and tamp down to make sure there’s good seed to soil contact.

● Plant indoors in pots for transplanting later to the garden or a container.

● Cold stratify the seeds by placing them on a moist paper towel, put them inside a sealed plastic bag, mark the date, and place them in your refrigerator for ten days.

● Some recommend that you scarify the seed first by rubbing them between two sheets of sandpaper to abrade the seed coat, making it easier for the seed to absorb water and break dormancy.

You can find many variations on these approaches on the web, so if you’re inclined, do some research. A great project with kids would be to try several of these approaches and mark the time to germination. If you do, take pictures and let us know your results!

Finally, if you want to learn more about Partridge Pea’s fascinating biology, here’s a great resource. Other good sources are here and here.