|Beach pea flowers, Lathyrus japonicus|
If you've grown sweet peas or garden peas, you'll instantly recognize their relative growing on the shoreline. Beach peas share the Leguminosae * family resemblance in clusters of flowers and 'bean' pods.
|Beach pea pods at Halibut Point tide line|
Beach peas clamber over anything their tendrils can grasp, in a modest way. Its ambitious cousin wisteria aims to entwine acres of trees.
|Wisteria pods high in a tree|
|Wisteria japonica flowers|
Black locust in bloom,
Legumes have always been nutritionally important to mankind. The pea family includes beans, soybeans, chickpeas, alfalfa and peanuts.
|American groundnut, Apios americana|
As a member of the legume family the groundnut's ability to supply its own nitrogen in partnership with soil bacteria could be a great advantage in comparison to root crops that require extensive fertilization. But because it has not yet been coaxed into yielding significantly enough in a single season it has not been assimilated into modern agriculture.
|Red and white clover, Trifolium pratense and T. repens|
|Palmate hop clover, Trifolium aureum|
Various clovers have been extensively cultivated as livestock fodder plants, either sown alone or in a mixture with ryegrass to form a staple crop for silaging. They are also welcome in pastures and meadows as a nectar source by beekeepers.
|Rabbit-foot clover, Trifolium arvense|
|Cow vetch, Vicia cracca|
Like many legumes they host rhizobia bacteria within structures called root nodules. These bacteria have the ability to convert nitrogen gas from the air into a form that is usable to the plant. Nitrogen fixation results from a classic symbiotic relationship beneficial to both organisms.
|Four-seeded vetch, Vicia tetrasperma|
|Crown-vetch, Securigera varia|
|Bird's-foot-trefoil, Lotus corniculatus|
Bird's-foot-trefoil, with many of the same utilitarian qualities as vetch, presents a startlingly beautiful wildflower in impoverished soils. A double-flowered variety has been introduced to horticulture.
|Blue lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus|
Lupine seeds are large and edible enough to have been used as a food for over 3000 years around the Mediterranean and for as much as 6000 years in the Andean highlands.
The legume family is unrivaled in its combined ornamental and comestible value to mankind.
* Most authorities use the name Fabaceae (from Latin faba for 'bean') for the pea family. I prefer to retain Leguminosae, an older name still considered valid, for its reference to the fruit of these plants, which are called legumes.** I derived much of the information in this essay from pertinent Wikipedia articles