These flashy pink flowers are everywhere right now. Like the Tangier pea that I wrote about a few weeks ago, the sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is an escaped garden plant. It has many sweet-smelling pink or purple flowers growing at the end of climbing stalks. The stem is dramatically flared, or winged, with a flat leaflike shelf projecting out from either side. The leaves are narrow and paired, like bunny ears.
As I mentioned in the last pea post, there are several different kinds of sweet peas growing in the area – I had always thought there was only one! Today’s post is about the true “sweet pea”, which is distinguished by the broad stem wings and by the fact that it’s a perennial, not an annual. You can tell the non-native sweet peas from the native species by looking at the leaves. All the non-natives have the paired “bunny ear” type of leaf, while the native species have many (more than five) leaflets on a stalk.
Showy pink blossoms, delicate fragrance and winding tendrils – it’s sweet pea season. I’ve been seeing them growing along roads and trails, in gardens, and in bouquets on people’s tables or shop counters. This is an invasive species that it’s hard not to love – a guilty botanical pleasure!
As with yesterday’s plant, this is one where I learned more than I bargained for in the identification. I had naively assumed that there was only one type of sweet pea and that every time I saw that distinctive pink blossom it was the same species. Wrong again! There are several different kinds, and also some native species with paler pink blooms, so you have to look close. Tangier pea, or Lathyrus tingitanus, has the winged stem, two-parted leaves and large, deep pink flowers that mark it as one of the non-native species. You can tell Tangier pea from sweet pea because it is an annual, and also because it only has two or three blossoms per stalk.