Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Partridge pea

I’m amazed almost every day to see healthy-looking patches of wildflowers blooming despite the ongoing horrible drought in Iowa. Today’s featured plant, partridge pea, is a bright yellow presence along roadsides, bike trails, in prairies, or at the edge of woodlands. Several photos are after the jump.

As a bonus, I’ve included two pictures of sweet peas in bloom. Unlike partridge pea, the sweet pea plant is indigenous to Europe, even though it has gone native throughout the continental U.S.

This is an open thread; all topics welcome.

Earlier this month, I saw a solitary yellow blossom along the Neal Smith trail in Polk County. I wasn’t sure what it was and forgot to bring my camera along. Fortunately, my bicycling companion (who writes the Hatton House Diaries blog) was quick with her smart phone:

Partridge pea in bloom, Partridge pea wildflower blooming in central Iowa, July 2012

At home I learned this plant was a partridge pea, a member of the legume family found across most of the eastern and southern U.S. Partridges and other birds love to eat the seeds from this plant, inspiring its common name. It blooms between July and September. Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull describe the blossoms in Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands:

Two to four flowers on separate slender stalks arise from axils of the upper leaves. They are usually canary yellow, but may be white. A patch of purple may occur near the base of each petal. Flowers are showy and large – often an inch or more across. The five petals are unequal. The lower petal and one of the lateral ones are larger than the other three. An upper petal is usually attached inside of the others. Five narrow green sepals are as long as the petals. Six drooping purple anthers (male flower parts) are a prominent feature of this flower.

The green sepals and purple anthers are easier to see in this shot, taken about a week later:

Partridge pea in bloom, A partridge pea blooming in central Iowa, July 2012

Partridge pea can grow in large colonies. I found these patches not far from Gray’s Lake in Des Moines.

Partridge peas in bloom, A patch of partridge pea plants blooming in central Iowa, July 2012

Partridge peas in bloom, A patch of partridge peas blooming in central Iowa, July 2012

This week’s not-quite-Iowa-wildflower is sweet pea, also known as everlasting pea or perennial pea. A European native, it grows wild now across most of the U.S. and Canada. Brian Johnston posted unbelievably detailed photos here. He also points out, “Pea flowered plants have the ability to obtain, (or “fix”) nitrogen from the atmosphere by using soil bacteria (Rhizobium). It is this capability that makes such plants useful, both in the environment, and to farmers, by increasing soil fertility.”

I didn’t recognize these dark pink blossoms and was surprised to see pea pods when I stopped to take a closer look. I wouldn’t have thought peas would thrive with so little rainfall, but an experienced gardener informed me that peas do well in dry weather.

Sweet pea blooming, Sweet pea blooming with pods in central Iowa, July 2012

The bright sunlight makes the flowers in this shot look lighter pink than they are, but you can see the pods more clearly.

Sweet pea blooming with pods, Sweet pea blooming with pods in central Iowa, July 2012

Tags: Wildflowers

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