A Tale of 3 Peas

When we visited Captain Forster Hammock Preserve on a marvelously breezy day, 4-13-2019, we saw lots of butterflies and lots of “peas”.  The pea family, Fabaceae, includes about 20,000 species of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs in more than 700 genera worldwide.  In Florida, 334 plants belong to this family.  Soybeans, garden peas, and peanuts are among the economically important plants in this family.

The leaves of plants in this family usually are pinnately compound, and some members of the family have trifoliate compound leaves, including 3 of the “peas” that we saw on this walk.

The most stunning and prevalent plant in this family was the coralbean (Erythrina herbacea).  Some coralbeans were seedlings, and others were substantially sized trees.  Trees in this family do tend to be topical.  Coralbean flowers are not the typical “sweet pea”-type flowers, however.

The flowers of spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum), a diminutive vine, have nickel-sized “sweet peas” type flowers and trifoliate leaves.  This plant ranges from New Jersey to Florida to Texas.  Peas with a temperate distribution tend to be herbaceous.

Also present, though less abundant, was eastern milk pea (Galactia volubilis), a slender vine with trifoliate leaves, dime-sized flowers, and a similar distribution.

It also known as downy milk pea.

The Fabacae family is the third largest plant family.  Only the orchid family, Orchidaceae, and the daisy family, Asteraceae, include more plants.  Large plant families are diverse families.