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Beach Pea Lathyrus japonicus (Lathyrus maritimus)


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Beach Pea - habit and leaf
credit: Bas Kers/CCSA

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Alternate name: Sea Vetchling

Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family

Description Trailing vine with a stout, angled or round stem and pink-lavender pea-like flowers in long-stalked clusters.
Habit: native perennial vine or herb; creeping or climbing on other plants, stems unbranched, not winged.
Height: stems 12-40 in (0.3-1 m) long.
Leaf: alternate, waxy, pinnately compound, 2-4 in (5-10 cm) long; leaflets flashy, waxy, ovate to elliptic, 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) long, half as wide, in 3-6 pairs; with terminal leaflet usually replaced by tendril; with large stipules, arrowhead-like, at base of stalk.
Flower: blue-violet to pink, to 1 in (2.5 cm) long and 0.5 in (1 cm) wide; in stalked cluster of 2-10 flowerheads, from upper leaf axil.
Fruit: pod, flat, smooth, straight, to 3 in (7.5 cm) long and 0.5 in (1 cm) wide.

Warning Plants in the genus Lathyrus, particularly the seeds, can be toxic to humans and animals if ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower June to August.

Habitat Sandy beaches, dunes, and gravelly areas.

Range Alaska and northern Canada; in the east, coastal Labrador to New England, south to New Jersey, west along the Great Lakes to Illinois, north to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Manitoba; on the Pacific coast from California north; also found in Chile and Japan.

Discussion Also called inland beach pea, beach peavine. Six varieties are recognized. This species, or a variety, is endangered or threatened in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Its unusually extensive native range is explained by the ability of the seeds to remain viable while floating in sea water for up to 5 years, enabling them to drift nearly worldwide. Germination occurs when the hard outer seed coat is abraded by waves on sand and gravel.

Marsh Pea (L. palustris), a similar species with purple flowers and lanceolate stipules, is found in wet meadows and marshes in the Northeast and Midwest.