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Climbing Butterfly-pea Centrosema virginianum


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Climbing Butterfly-pea
credit: Theresa Thom, National Park Service

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Alternate name: Spurred Butterfly-pea

Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description Trailing or twining vine with violet flowers, single or in clusters of 2-4 in the axils of compound leaves.
Habit: native perennial vine or herb.
Height: stems to 6 ft (1.8 m) long or more.
Leaf: alternate, trifoliate; leaflets ovate to narrowly lanceolate, pointed, 1-2.5 in (25-63 mm) long.
Flower: blue-violet to purple to palest lavender, round, 1 in (25 mm) long, petals upside-down from most pea flowers; large lower lip, midvein often white; long claw at back of flower; single or in cluster or 2-4, held in leaf axil.
Fruit: flattened pod, 3-5 in (75-125 mm) long, 0.125 in (3 mm) thick; the two open halves of the split pod dry into spirals.

Flower July to August, or year-round, depending on location.

Habitat Moist, sandy, acid soils: hammocks, sandy woodlands, pinelands, wet prairies, fields; also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range New Jersey south to Florida; west to Texas; north to Arkansas and Illinois.

Discussion Also called spurred butterfly pea, butterfly pea. Endangered in New Jersey. The flowers of this delicate showy vine are recognized by their upside-down position.

Sand Butterfly-pea (C. arenicola) has ovate leaflets indented at the base; Florida Butterfly-pea (C. floridana), with oval to lanceolate leaflets up to 3 (7.5 cm) long, occurs in the pinewoods of Florida.