Saturday, August 3, 2019

Coral Hoary Pea - Tephrosia angustissima var. corallicola

Tephrosia angustissima var. corallicola in a pot at my home

Seed pods and seeds - These are quite small
Coral hoary pea (Tephrosia angustissima var. corallicola) is a very rare variety of a very rare plant in Florida. It is found naturally only in extreme south Florida - Collier and Miami-Dade Counties in sunny open pinelands. According to my friend, Roger Hammer, it has been reported from Hillsborough County as well, but nativity of that record seems suspect to me. This is a relatively easy plant to grow and these may be escaped from cultivation though it is rarely propagated by anyone associated with the native plant nursery group - FANN.
Coral hoary pea is a low-growing perennial that rarely stands more than 6 inches tall, but spreads for several feet once established. Like other members of this genus, it has compound leaves that are coated with silky "hairs".  Each compound leaf is about 2 inches long and individual leaflets are mostly less than 1/2 inch.
Blooming occurs from spring through fall. Each pink bloom opens in the afternoon and lasts one day. They are about 1/4 inch long and are pollinated by small bees. Pollinated flowers develop quickly into thin "beans" that are about 1 inch long and quite slender in shape. Like most "beans and peas", the pods turn brown and then split with a decided twist that throws the ripe seed away from the parent plant. The force of this twist-and-release action can send a seed dozens of feet away.
Coral hoary pea is quite rare in nature and is listed as a state-endangered species. It is not endemic, however, as it also is reported to occur in Cuba. Despite its rarity, it is a very easy species to grow and propagate. A friend of mine won this plant at a charity plant auction for me over a year ago and I have so far kept it in its pot. It responds well to life in these conditions, has good drought tolerance and flowers profusely. I have been collecting these seeds and growing them here at Hawthorn Hill where I hope to add it to my routine propagation list.
Members of the pea family are rarely grown by members of FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but they should be considered more. Many serve as host plants for butterflies. It's close cousin, Florida hoary pea (T. florida) is known as a host plant for the northern duskywing skipper, for example,  and though this butterfly does not extend into extreme south Florida, it is reasonable to assume it might use coral hoary pea also in my area of the state. I will be watching closely.

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