July 17, 2016

My Lathyrus Species Project - A Rainbow of Rare Flowering Peas

Lathyrus annuus var. annuus, or 'Fodder Pea' has a flower color highly sought after by plant breeders looking to expand the palette of cut flower sweet peas - yellow. This species has a tiny flower, so will remain rarely cultivated, but it does have interesting foliage.

OK, arguably, the many species of Lathyrus or sweet peas are less exciting then their cousins, the hybrids and many selections of L. odoratus which we all adore. But, last February, when I announced my 'special projects' goals for the year, I mentioned that I wanted to grow a collection of Lathyrus species, and I felt that I really have to follow through. It's been a fun little project, and one which I may continue next year with even more species to trial. I've never seen a collection of peas raised in pots, in fact, I wasn't even certain if the pea species would like growing in pots, but I proceeded anyway, with my project goals (along with most of my other projects such as Phlox in pots, a collection of gooseberries and currants, and Mignonette (the Clematis in containers project was postponed for another year - Hey, I can't do it all!).

Lathyrus belinensis is a very short-vine, no more than a foot long, which I was prepared for. It makes a very nice small container plant, but it is short lived. Named n 1988, it's one of the newer species, and one I feel is the most garden worthy. It is short lived though, like most peas.

A collection of wild peas or pea species grown for their flowers seemed interesting enough, but I discovered,  seed was somewhat hard to find - so I am on the hunt for more interesting species - if you have a source, let me know. Most of these came from Roger Parsons Sweet Peas in the UK, but if you know of a better source, please share . This made the project even more desirable for me, as now I had to track down some rare species, as well as some named selections of species.

Lathyrus sativus var. azureus, the 'Chickling Pea' is pure, sky blue. It may be the one species you can find in some specialty catalogs, but  be prepared for short vines, a foot to 15 inches long, and like most of these pea species, very short lived. At leas, in pots.

 Lathyrus odoratus, the wild species of the common sweet pea used as a cut flower seen in my previous post, was one pot of seed which did not survive my vacation - dogs, the heat and a missing hose allowed  a few pots to be eliminated. Still, I had around ten different types of various Lathyrus species bloom, some of which I am sharing here (some bloomed while I was away in Wyoming, and others have yet to bloom).

Lathyrus belinensis, from Turkey, has a unique fragrance which is sweet, but quite different from L. odoratus. This is perhaps the most brilliantly colored of the wild species I have grown. The yellow standard with a  stripes is very desirable, and since it is very closely related to L. odoratus, it is being used in breeding programs in an effort to add yellow to cut flower sweet peas.

Lathyrus chrysanthus, one of the few species with pale lime green flowers.

I tried to find some tall clay pots, and experimented with staking techniques like this. I really had no idea how tall some varieties or species would grow, but most worked out well. Next year, I will have had more experience with certain species, and will make some adjustments with both pot size and staking height.

Perhaps the most noticiable aspect when grown in containers is the diversity in height followed by then their diverse leaf shapes. After that, the most obvious (and perhaps the discouraging thing) is their short blooming period, finally served with most species having a smaller flower size when compared to fancier hybrids, but that doesn't bother me - I like interesting and novel, and there is something to be said for a collection of unusual species of peas in pots as a display.

Lathyrus clymenum 'Chelsea' which I question the label, as the keel here is pink and not pale lavender. 

Lathyrus paranensis, another blue-flower species blooms the laterest than most of the other species in my collection. It has yet to bloom but I am impatient - wanted to get this post done, so I will just add it's photo later. Lilies are queuing up.

With some species, the seed pods are just a beautiful.

Some pods are very strange, indeed. Take Lathyrus gloeospermus, the Sticky-Seeded Pea for example.

Lathyrus clymenum var. articulatus has a pretty watermelon-pink flower, yet no larger than the fingernail on ones pinkie finger. Hey, maybe it should be called 'Pinkie'?

The Tangier Pea, Lathyrus tingitanus has glowing pink flowers on a tall vine.

Lathyrus ochrus, has a blossom which rivals that of any snap pea in the veg garden, but one raises this for it's seed pods. It's common name the 'Winged Pea' provides a hint.

The seed pods on the 'Winged Pea' have a special shape but again, I am not sure if this is virtuous enough for me to raise it again. Maybe once they mature and dry, something special will happen?

It's the healthy, lush foliage on some species that can more than make up for smaller flowers. This L. clymenum is tall and green with tiny leaves.

The foliage alone, is interesting, especially when pots are lined up.

Still, nothing compares with the selections of Lathyrus odoratus - even if they are some striped, old fashioned type.


  1. Fascinating! Thank you for the detailed and beautifully illustrated post!

  2. Anonymous8:12 AM

    I’m constantly surprised by how differently plants fare with you than over here in the far west of England [Cornwall].
    Most of the species I have grown are constantly in flower for about 2 months through the summer as long as they are dead headed [or for the straggly ones I cut back whole stems].
    In particular L. aphaca and sativus just keep going; but then as you said before your ‘sweet peas’ are over with summer heat in a very short season too. In Cornwall we have just had three days with temperatures over 21C [70F]. For us that makes this a hot summer!
    Are you trying any of the perennial species? We have access to a range of colours in L.latifolius, usually sold under the names of ‘The Pearl’ series. Sadly they are usually seed raised and variably true to colour, and seldom true to the improved flower size and ‘poise’ of the named forms [which should be propagated from cuttings].
    Is the spring flowering Lathyrus vernus hardy with you?
    The Japanese have done breeding work on latifolius to produce forms improved for cut flowers, but I have not found a way to access seed or plants of Japanese breeding. Do you have contacts in Japan?
    L. belinensis needed Dr. Keith Hammett [UK born – emigrated to New Zealand] to intervene with embryo rescue in vitro to cross with odoratus [the work published in 1994]. The progeny were self-sterile but can back cross to odoratus. The Hammett strains managed to fix some interesting colours and the ability to produce ‘reveres bicolours’ [standard paler than wings]. ‘Yellow’ has yet to emerge in the progeny, but resistance to powdery mildew has! His web site is always worth perusing.


    1. Thanks Cad. Dr. Hammett's work is familiar to me (but I can't for the life of me remember why!) Going to check on all that now. I knew about the yellow crosses but not about the increased resistance. I have some contacts in Japan, but not anyone working with Lathyrus. I too was surprised that these species only lasted a short period of time, but maybe it was the heat?

  3. Best flower shop in the city! Their 'ready to go' floral arrangements are the best deal in town - and last well over a week. Plus, San Francisco Flower Delivery shop always seem open - so great to pick them up on way home from dinner.


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