Weeds of Wednesday: Hairy Cowpea

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Hairy cowpea (Vigna luteola) is a twining vine with bright yellow flowers that are held on long flower stalks (pedicels). This member of the pea family, Fabacae, can smother other vegetation, especially when ample water and nutrients are available. At Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, this perennial vine grows abundantly over the un-mowed vegetation that lines its man-made ponds.

When I was the Multi-County Extension Agent for the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program for the Indian River Lagoon, I frequently received calls about a horrible weedy vine that was covering their much-manicured mangroves that abutted their very green lawn. At the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA), this vine is well-behaved in undisturbed areas likely due to the abundance of shade and competition for nutrients and water.

Its leaflets are held in groups of three.  Young stems are green and soft, and older stems thicken and become more fibrous.

Its seed pods are brown when ripe and split length-wise to expel their tiny black seeds with substantial propulsion. On closer inspection you will find that the seed pods are covered with silken hairs …

Hairy cowpea grows throughout the southern U.S. and most of Florida.  In warmer areas, it flowers and fruits throughout the entire year.

Pollinators visit its brightly colored flowers, including this southern carpenter bee (Xylocopa micans) photographed at PINWR …

Hairy cowpea is a larval host plant for the cassius blue butterfly(Leptotes cassius), the gray hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus)the dorantes long tail skipper (Urbanus dorantes), and the long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus)

Incorporate this sunny flowered vine in your yard on a chain-link fence or trellis to attract butterflies and other pollinators.

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