Confusion Over Classification of Southern Peas

Whippoorwill cowpea is an heirloom type of Southern pea
Whippoorwill cowpea is an heirloom type of Southern pea. Credit: Larry Williams

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.

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 Jim Stephens, retired UF/IFAS Extension Vegetable Specialist.

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 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 fifty southern pea varieties and strains were identified through scientific testing. Today, more varieties have been added 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 seeds and seed eyes and the 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 of the 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 eleven 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 matters even 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 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 March through July.


Posted: May 29, 2024

Category: Agriculture, Horticulture
Tags: Black-eye Peas, Growing Vegetables, Peas, Southern Peas, Vegetable Gardening

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