Some cues on peas a most versatile family of plants

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The pea family is responsible for many interesting and useful plants. As an example, lupines, also known as bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas, fertilize the soil for other plants.

The there is the huisache. Bearing creamy white spherical clusters of flowers, huisache is a shrub or small tree armed with short, stout spines, and is commonly seen along the Gulf coast and even inland in the lower South. The branches have thorns wit fragrant yellow flowers in tight globular heads on some types. They bloom from January to March or April.

The plant is very useful economically as a "honey plant." The leaves are used as forage and the ground seeds yield a good meal.

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The fruit pulp of the huisache is used in preparing dark dyes. Tannin is extracted from the bark, and the flowers are useful for making perfume. The plant makes a most interesting speciment for any yard in the lower South, even if only as a conversation peice.

The patridge pea blooms in the lower South from June to September, attracting honeybees. It is an erect, few-branched annual with flowers that open at dawn in clusters, each bud bearing one flower at a time. Some partridge peas have small yellow flowers that open in late summer.

The nodules of the roots help fertilize the ground, much as the lupines do. The partridge pea does well in sandy soil and under drought conditions.

The striking bird-of-paradise is a novelty shrub that grows in much of the Deep South. It resembles a bird of sorts and blooms from May to October and is widely cultivated in some parts of the semitropics.

Worthy of a place in sandy-soil garden is coral, or cherokee bean, which commonly grows from North Carolina to Florida and as far west as Texas. The flowers are arranged in spikelike racemes from purplish waist-high leafless stalks in April and May. The red seeds appear when the pods open in the fall. The scarlet flowers may be most abundant from March to June, particularly in the extreme lower South.

Redbud, another member of the pea family, often signifies the beginning of flowering time for all wildflowers. It has tightly clustered pink flowers that appear as early as March, slightly before the leaves, on twigs of the previous season.

The mesquite, a shrub or small tree, has long been associated with the history and lore of the South. It has an airy gracefulness in its pale-green, dropping, feathery foliage. The roots of a mesquite of even moderate size go into the ground up to 60 feet. It has small yellowish or whitish sweet-scented flowers borne in racemes in April and May and intermittently afterward.

The American Indians used to be bread from the pods and burn the roots as fule. The bark yields a gum.

The dense, hard wood of mesquite has been used in cabinetmaking for centuries. It was used extensively in the Old West for fence posting because of the wood's high resistance to rot.

Mesquite is also common to Mexico and southern California, but frequently can be found along the Gulf coast as well.

There are many other interesting members of the pea family: sensitive briar, two- leaved senna, paloverde (an ornamental shrub), wild indigo, bush pea, white and yellow sweet clover, and shrubby dalea, to name a few.

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