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Clearing up confusion over Southern peas

Larry Williams

A farmer might call them cowpeas. A grocer might call them black-eyed peas. A restaurant waitress/waiter might call them field peas. But they are all talking about the same vegetable – the Southern pea.

In today’s article, I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion surrounding Southern pea classification by sharing the following information written by retired UF/IFAS Extension Vegetable Specialist Jim Stephens.

Part of the confusion over Southern pea variety names is due to the fact that gardeners can save their own Southern pea seeds. Over the years, true varietal identity gets lost.

So, gardeners think up new, local names for the varieties they grow. As the seeds are spread around, what started out as a single variety may become known by several names. Add to this the fact that there are so many recognizable Southern pea varieties and it’s easy to see how confusion can result.

Some years ago, more than 50 Southern pea varieties and strains were identified through scientific testing. Since then, plant breeders have added many more varieties to that old list.

There are many varieties of Southern peas, such as these pink-eye purple hull peas.

Today, 11 Southern pea classifications are recognized. By looking for characteristics associated with each grouping, gardeners usually can come fairly close to identifying unknown seed stock. With the exception of the purple hull group, Southern pea classification is based mostly on color of the seeds and seed eyes and spacing of

the seeds in the pods.

Varieties are called crowders if the seeds are spaced so closely that the seed ends are pressed against each other. As some variety names suggest, seed color varies. The color can be general over the entire seed coat or it may be concentrated around the seed eye. Colorless varieties are called creams. The purple hull group includes varieties with some purple coloring on their pods, even though they may fit into other groups due to seed characteristics.

The 11 classification groups include black-eyes, black-eye crowders, colored-eyes, colored-eye crowders, black crowders, brown crowders, speckled crowders, creams, cream crowders, purple hull group and the field forage group. And to make it more confusing, Southern peas also can be classified according to plant growth habit. Pea plants may be bush, vining or semi-vining types.

Southern pea varieties recommended for Florida gardens include the black-eye group, the brown crowder and the producer (from the brown crowder group), the bush conch, Texas creams and snap peas (from the cream group) and the zipper cream (from the

cream crowder group).

Southern peas can be planted in North Florida from March through mid-August. For more information on how to grow Southern peas, check with the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your county.

Larry Williams is a UF/IFAS Extension Agent in Okaloosa County.