Pea and Bean-a Look at Their Wild Relatives

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

The pea and pea family Fabaceae formerly known as the Leguminosae produces some of the most familiar culinary plants such as the broad bean , the runner bean and the garden pea. The Fabaceae derives from the Latin faba meaning bean. It also produces garden flowers such as the sweet pea favoured by many an English cottage garden as one of its floral centre pieces. They provide a plethora of blooms that one can not fail to admire.

yet this same family contains wild members which are also attractive to look at. So with the aid of photographs I will endeavour to inform the reader of these wild relatives.. Some such as the white clover Trifolium repens and the red clover T. pratense will be familiar to most, so it is with them that I will commence.

The white clover spreads by means of runners in the manner of the creeping buttercup, indeed, the species name repens means to creep, think of reptile{crawling}. The rounded flower head {what most people consider to be the flower is in fact a flower head composed of many individual flowers}, has many individual tiny pea like flowers with white petals often tinged with pink, especially when they are mature. The rows of flowers droop down towards the stalk once they have been pollinated allowing the pollinator access to the unfertilised flowers. They are sweet scented and a good source of nectar. The whole leaf is composed of three leaflets. These shamrock like leaves have a V shaped white band on each of the oval leaf leaflets. They flower from June to September.

The red clover, Trifolium pratense {of the meadows} have reddish pink flower heads. The leaflets are slightly more elongated as a rule but often share with the former species the white V marking on each of them. The flowers of the red clover were once utilised to make a syrup given to children afflicted with whooping cough. There is some of the foliage directly beneath the flower head which distinguishes it from the similar zig zag clover whose flower head is stalked and has no foliage directly below the flower head. Other less common clovers occur in the U.K. many of them are scarce and some are endangered.

Clovers

The flower heads of the red clover provide a source of nectar for bees and other insects. Photograph by D.A.L.
The flower heads of the red clover provide a source of nectar for bees and other insects. Photograph by D.A.L.
The leaflets of the zig zag clover lack the white markings. Photograph by D.A.L.
The leaflets of the zig zag clover lack the white markings. Photograph by D.A.L.
The foliage of this specimen is unusually large, the white markings can be seen. Photograph by D.A.L.
The foliage of this specimen is unusually large, the white markings can be seen. Photograph by D.A.L.

Other relatives.

Other clover like species of the family include the hop trefoil , the lesser trefoil and the black medick, all have three leaflets and smaller yellow flowered heads. The lesser trefoil is one of the smallest members of the family.

Our next subject of this diverse family is the common birds foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus. This species of short grassland which includes roadside verges produces erect stems topped with yellow flowers which are often tinged with red especially when in bud. They produce clusters of three to seven flowers on longish leafy stems. The flowers are typical of the pea family. The seed pods are long and thin and they uncannily resemble the foot of a bird hence the common name. The name trefoil suggests that there are three leaflets, however, this species has five. The three prominent ones are at the tip of the leaf but close observation will reveal that there are two more leaflets where the leaf stalk joins the stem.

Birds foot trefoil

Birds foot trefoil is impressive in short grassland. Photograph by D.A.L.
Birds foot trefoil is impressive in short grassland. Photograph by D.A.L.

The Greater bird's-foot trefoil Lotus uglinosa grows in damp meadows and marshy ground, and as its name suggests is much taller in habit than the former species. The bird's-foot Ornithopus perpussillus another species named after the shape of the seed pods, are much less common than the former species which produces pea like flowers that are predominantly white, each with a yellow blotch and delicate pink veins.

The next group of plants are the vetches which also produce pea like flowers and long, ladder-like leaves composed of many leaflets arranged opposite each other. They also have tendrils {like the sweet pea} which they use to grasp other vegetation in order to remain erect. This group includes the bush vetch,Vicia sepium, Tufted vetch , Vicia cracca and the not so common -Common Vetch Vicia sativa.. All the species have pea-like flowers {of various colours } and produce their seeds in pods..

Vetches

The bush vetch notice the tendrils grasping the grass. Photograph by D.A.L.
The bush vetch notice the tendrils grasping the grass. Photograph by D.A.L.
Bush vetch with its pea like flowers. Photograph by D.A.L.
Bush vetch with its pea like flowers. Photograph by D.A.L.

Next we come upon the shrubs such as the gorse and broom. Very common on heaths and in other localities. They both have very similar flowers and seeds contained in pods, however, there the similarity ends. Gorse possesses sharp vicious spines that make them almost impenetrable, but ideal for small birds to nest in. The spines also enable small animals such as the rabbit to hide in safety away from larger predators such as the fox. The gorse and other species of its ilk are in flower for most of the year, giving rise to the old adage when gorse is out of flower kissing is out of fashion.

The broom on the other hand lacks these vicious spines and has slender benign shoots clothed with modified leaves. The pea like flowers of the bloom usually open wide to reveal the curled stamens. Although broom is now regarded as being somewhat toxic, the flowers buds may be eaten. They were once popular additions to salads. Another poisonous member of the family is the garden lupin.

Gorse in flower

The bright yellow flowers of broom. Photograph by D.A.L.
The bright yellow flowers of broom. Photograph by D.A.L.
Gorse in flower. This photograph was taken in February. Photograph by D.A.L.
Gorse in flower. This photograph was taken in February. Photograph by D.A.L.

Finally as far as this hub is concerned I will concentrate on one of the tree members of this family. Many are surprised to learn that the Laburnum tree is a member of the pea family. Its alternative name of "the golden rain tree" is a very apt description which describes well the cascading slender clusters of yellow flowers on stalks some 25cm long. There is no mistaking the pea like form of the flowers which are succeeded by seed pods, and their foliage is composed of three leaflets, up 9cm long.


The pendulous sprays of the laburnum in bud. Photograph by D.A.L.
The pendulous sprays of the laburnum in bud. Photograph by D.A.L.
The golden rain tree, the name aptly describes the laburnum in flower. Photograph by D.A.L
The golden rain tree, the name aptly describes the laburnum in flower. Photograph by D.A.L

Laburnum continued

All parts of the tree are poisonous especially so the dark round mature seeds which the tree produces in abundance. One or two of these seeds if eaten is enough to make a child or domestic pet very ill. Five or six may well lead to fatalities. A beautiful flowering tree, that needs treating with respect. It is exceedingly important to clear away all seeds that fall to the ground if children and pets are likely to encounter them.

Laburnum leaves and flowers

 The three leaflets are common in the pea and bean family.Photograph by D.A.L.
The three leaflets are common in the pea and bean family.Photograph by D.A.L.
developing seed pods that will conceal the deadly seeds. Photograph by D.A.L.
developing seed pods that will conceal the deadly seeds. Photograph by D.A.L.

There are many more species yet to be encountered in this large and diverse family. However, these will be encountered in a future hub on these wild relatives of the garden bean.

More by this Author


Comments 9 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi Carol your welcome thanks for the visit.


reddog1027 profile image

reddog1027 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I was not aware that the pea family was so diverse. Thanks again for an informative hub.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Vibhavari thank you once again for your visit.You are so right all beautiful things should be treated with respect. Thank you for your kind comments.

billyaustindillon, thank you too, for visiting again and for your appreciated comment.


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

I learnt so much here D.A.L. thanks for sharing.


Vibhavari profile image

Vibhavari 6 years ago from India

Hi D.A.L.

Very informative hub, I did not know the laburnum belonged to the pea family. I always love to see the Laburnum in full bloom and the golden rain tree is an apt name for it. I also did not know it was poisonous. All beautiful things need to be treated with respect.

And as usual, you have some BEAUTIFUL pictures on your hub!

Thank you for sharing them.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

K, thank you once again for your visit and kind comment.

Paul, thank you for your considered and knowledgeable comment. It is true that many species throughout the world have been introduced to alien environments to the detriment of those environments as you say. We have the same problem with aliens such as the Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and Canadian Pondweed. Thank you for your visit it is appreciated.

Hi Darski, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say.thank you for your usual kins comments.


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

The pictures tell it all, I have the creeping clover growing around one of my trees, everyone tells me to pull it for it is a weed, I love it and it remains. Thanks you for showing us your universe of beauty, as you know I so enjoy, your fan and friend....


paul_gibsons profile image

paul_gibsons 6 years ago from Gibsons, BC, Canada

Although we don't tend to think of Broom as of the pea and vetch family, it is of course. It is stunningly beautiful but has a mixture of properties, some desirable, some not so. Broom (or Scotch Broom as we always cal it here) was introduced here in BC and North America in general not so much as a garden plant but for its root system which is rapid growing, fine and dense, therby seemingly an ideal plant to quickly revegetate and permanently stabilize bare slopes following railroad- and road construction for instance. Fatal mistake... it likes it here so much that it is now common more or less everywhere, thanks to that other property it has: like Black walnut and English Laurel, it kills any other vegetation underneath and around it, which is why it does so well. And which is why it is now regarded as an alien nasty invader and utterly failing attempts are made to eradicate it. Definitely, as far as beauty goes, not a dumb-blonde but, as is usually the case with beauty, dangerous when thrown into an unsuspecting and competing environment. A real party-spoiler.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

Beautiful.......... K

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