Australian Pea Flowers - Cultivation


The sub-family Faboideae of the family Fabaceae is such a large and diverse group of plants, which inhabit virtually every climatic niche, it is not possible to give more than a brief and fairly superficial guide to some of the more commonly seen genera and species. Despite the size of the Australian pea family, relatively few species are cultivated, even by enthusiasts.

Plants of woodland, heath and open forest

This group includes the so-called "bush peas" of the genera Pultenaea, Dillwynia, Aotus, Gompholobium, Daviesia, Phyllota, Podolobium and Oxylobium as well as the well known climbers or prostrate plants in the genera Hardenbergia and Kennedia. These are distributed throughout Australia and species for cultivation should be selected from those native to a similar climate to that of the grower. Almost invariably, these species require well drained soils and usually appreciate some light protection from full sun.

Many of this group are not in general cultivation and many are difficult to maintain for long periods. Species which are available and which are generally reliable in suitable climates include:

  • Gastrolobium celsianum (syn. Brachysema celsianum) - small shrub, red flowers with a prominent "keel"
  • Chorizema cordatum - small shrub, red and orange flowers
  • Dillwynia juniperina - small shrub, prickly foliage, yellow and red flowers
  • Hardenbergia comptoniana - climber, purple flowers (from Western Australia)
  • Hardenbergia violacea - climber, purple flowers (from eastern Australia)
  • Indigofera australis - small/medium shrub, mauve to pink flowers
  • Kennedia nigricans - very vigorous climber, black and yellow flowers
  • Kennedia prostrata - prostrate plant, red flowers
  • Podolobium scandens (syn. Oxylobium scandens) - prostrate plant, yellow and red flowers
  • Pultenaea capitellata - prostrate plant, yellow flowers
  • Pultenaea villosa - medium shrub, hairy foliage, yellow flowers

Plants of the inland

The most commonly seen inland genus is Swainsona and the best known is S.formosa, Sturt's desert pea (previously known as Clianthus formosus). This is a very desirable plant with grey, divided foliage and very large and showy red flowers (sometimes white). The plant is not easy to grow in humid areas but can be gown for several seasons in a deep container with a very well drained potting mix. It is more easily cultivated in Mediterranean climates (dry summer, wet winter) and in arid areas.

Other Swainsona species are sometimes seen in cultivation. S.galegifolia is an attractive small shrub with mauve/purple flowers.

Tropical species

This is perhaps the easiest group for general cultivation. Castanospermum australe, black bean, is the most commonly cultivated. It usually forms a medium tree to about 15 metres and produces large clusters of orange/red flowers followed by large legumes containing several large seeds. The plant is hardy in most temperate areas provided water is available but it will withstand extended dry conditions once established.

Crotalaria species are sometimes cultivated in tropical areas. C.laburnifolia (bird flower), from north Western Australia, is a shrub to about 3 metres which is hardy in sub-tropical and tropical areas in a sunny position.

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