Monday, July 9, 2012
Pineland Butterfly Pea - Centrosema arenicola
Pineland butterfly pea (Centrosema arenicola) is one of 3 closely related species in this genus, two of which are difficult to distinguish from each other. Pineland butterfly pea is the one most commonly encountered in well-drained upland sites. It is found in the north and central portions of penisular Florida, and because it is endemic to this region, it is one of many species unique to our state. Look for it in scrub and sandhill ecosystems. Because of its limited range, it is listed as a state endangered species.
Butterfly peas are vining herbaceous perennials. They die back during the winter months and re-emerge in spring, eventually widing their way through adjacent vegetation and climbing upwards. They do not have tendrils, but are very effective climbers nonetheless.
Pineland butterfly pea, and its close cousin spurred butterfly pea (C. virginianum) have compound leaves composed of 3 leaflets. Each leaflet is elliptical/oval in shape. There are small differences in the flowers between these two species, but spurred butterfly pea is more common in less xeric habitats.
Blooming occurs in summer and into the fall. The flowers are a light lavender with the typical fused petals seen in many pea-family species. The lower lobe (these flowers are actually upside down) is a bit shorter and stouter in pineland butterfly pea than in spurred butterfly pea. Both species have a white nectar guide on the fused lower lip to guide pollinators to the nectar source deep inside the bloom.
Butterfly peas are not currently propagated by anyone I am aware of in FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is not an easy species to maintain in a pot because its rambling habitat makes it want to go everywhere and they quickly become a tangled mess. There are good reasons to grow it, however. Butterfly peas are the larval food plant for the long-tailed skipper and their flowers are attractive to look at for months. They are just not good subjects for a small garden. If you find seed, they are easy to grow from it. Just be patient for it to germinate.