Cowpeas are one of the most important food legumes in the semiarid tropics covering Asia, Africa, Southern Europe, and Central and South America.
A drought-tolerant and warm-weather crop, cowpeas are well adapted to the drier regions of the tropics, where other food legumes do not perform well. It also has the useful ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen through it its root nodules, and it grows well in poor soils with more the 85 percent sand and with less than 0.2% organic matter and low levels phosphorus.
A farmer might call them cowpeas. A grocer might call them black-eyed peas. A restaurant waitress might call them field peas. But they are all talking about the same vegetable the southern pea. If you think you’re confused now, wait until you see some of the other names for this vegetable. My information was provided by Emeritus Extension Vegetable Specialist, Jim Stephens, of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Okaloosa county director Larry Williams.
A good part of the confusion over southern pea variety names is due to the fact that gardeners can easily save their own southern pea seeds. Over the years, true varietal identity gets lost. So, gardeners think up new local names for the Southern pea varieties that grow. As the seeds are spread around, what started out as a single variety may become known by several names. Added to this 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 fifty southern pea varieties and strains were identified through scientific testing. Since then, plant breeders have added many more varieties to that old list.
Today, eleven southern pea classifications are recognized. By looking for the 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 the color of the seed and seed eyes and the spacing of the seed in the pods.
Varieties are called Crowder’s if the seeds are spaced so closely that the 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.
As I said, there are III Classification Groups – The Black-Eyes, The Black-Eye Crowder’s, The Colored-Eyes, The Colored-Eye Crowder’s, The Purple Hull group, The Black Crowder’s, The Brown Crowder’s, The Speckled Crowder’s, The Creams, The Cream Crowder’s, and The Field Forage Group. To make matters even more confusing Southern peas also can be classified according to plant growth habit. Pea plants may be bush, top pick, vining, or semi-vining types.
Southern peas recommended for North Florida includes Black-eye No. 5, Cream 8, Cream 12, Knuckle Hull, Magnolia, Pink Eye, Purple Hull, Texas Cream 40, White Acres, Top Pick Eye Purple Hull, Top Pick Cream 40, Sadandy and Zipper Cream.
Southern peas can be planted in our area in the spring, summer, or fall. For more information on how to grow Southern Peas, contact your local county extension office and see Publication SP 103, Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.