How to Grow and Care for Partridge Pea

Yellow flowers with red centers, feathery green leaves, green meadow setting
Partridge pea flourish in meadows, open woodlands and prairies

STL Birder / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In This Article

The partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is also known as "sleeping plant" or "sensitive plant." It as once classified as part of the Cassia genus so it is sometimes also known as golden cassia. Its small feathery leaves are greenish yellow and tend to fold up when touched. Partridge pea has large yellow flowers with brownish red markings. The flowers attract bees that harvest the pollen. Some butterflies use the plant as a host for their larvae, including Orange Sulphur and Sleepy Orange butterflies. This plant also has a small structure on its stems known as "extrafloral nectaries" which provide small amounts of nectar attracting predatory insects that might protect the plant from herbivores. Bumblebees also harvest this nectar, often spending more effort visiting the extrafloral nectaries than the flowers.

The partridge pea produces attractive maroon seed pods in autumn that are eaten by gamebirds (such as quail, turkey, and grouse), songbirds and other wildlife, including white tail deer, and these plants also provide cover for ground-feeding birds. It is often included in food plot seed mixes for its value as wildlife food. It should not be planted near grazing lands because it can be toxic to cattle who might eat large amounts of it. The partridge pea is actually a legume, and it fixes nitrogen in soil where it grows, making it beneficial to some lean soils. It has also been used to help prevent erosion and to help stabilize stream banks.

While it prefers sunny upland areas that are somewhat dry, its adaptable to a fairly wide range of conditions. It's considered an annual or a short-lived perennial.

Botanical Name  Chamaecrista fasciculata
Common Name  Sleeping plant sensitive plant, golden cassia, locust weed 
Plant Type  Annual, short-lived perennial
Mature Size  2-3 ft. tall 
Sun Exposure  Full to part sun 
Soil Type  Loam, clay, sand, adaptable to many soils 
Soil pH  Acidic to neutral 
Bloom Time  Mid summer through fall 
Flower Color  Yellow 
Hardiness Zones  4 - 9 (USDA) 
Native Areas  Eastern United States 
Toxicity Toxic to livestock in large amounts
Bright yellow flower with red markings and feathery light green leaves
Partridge pea's bright yellow flowers are attractive to bees

Sara Rall / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Partridge Pea Care

This wild plant grows freely and needs little or no care. If you're growing it you may want to deadhead it or cut it back in autumn to keep it looking neat. Trimming the seedpods before they split may control its spread also.

Invasive Species

Patridge pea is known to spread in wild habitats such as prairies, meadows, open woodlands, and savannahs within its growing zones (USDA 4 to 9), but in garden environments it may prove to be invasive. It reseeds to propagate itself and has a fairly deep taproot, up to 12 inches deep. Check with your local extension office before planting.

Light

Partridge pea prefers full to part sun. It won't grow in shady conditions.

Soil

This plant adapts well to a variety of soil conditions, including clay, sand, rocky soils, and loam. If trying to propagate by seed, give it a good start in some sandy loam.

Water

No extra watering is needed unless there's an extreme drought. But partridge pea tends to be very drought tolerant and suitable to dry conditions.

Temperature and Humidity

Partridge pea can handle heat and cold very well, and is suited to climates with a wide range of daily temperature fluctuations. It prefers a somewhat dry habitat such as prairie or meadow and does not tend to proliferate in a humid environment.

Is Partridge Pea Toxic?

Generally this plant is considered non-toxic, but there have been reports of some livestock becoming ill when they eat too much of it. Therefore it's important to check grazing areas to make sure there's not too much partridge pea growing nearby. It's also important to avoid trying to propagate this plant near areas where livestock might graze or pets might be roaming.

Growing Partridge Pea from Seed

This plant reseeds naturally once established. If you're planting for the first time, you'll probably want to try winter sowing or cold stratification for the seeds to give them a proper start. The seeds have a hard outer shell and may also need to be scarified to get them to germinate. You can use sandpaper for this. Plant in a seed tray with potting mix, about a half inch deep, and place where it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Keep moist. Seedlings should begin to germinate in about two weeks. When the plants are two inches tall you can transplant them outside, after the last frost date.