Spurred Butterfly Pea

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday blooms a winding purple pendant hung upon the nape of the forest, Spurred Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum).

Spurred Butterfly Pea is a common sight in fall here on Edisto Island. Its thin vine is often spotted draped across a small shrub or twined around a flower stem atop a sunny, sandy tree line. Its sparse three-fingered leaves and delicate stem do little to hinder the growth of its host. Spurred Butterfly Pea is a member of the legumes and can fix nitrogen. It also has a very large and very pea-like flower that’s nearly two inches around and a soft pastel-purple with a snow white streak down the center.

Spurred Butterfly Pea is a decent pollinator plant that’s appreciated by smaller butterflies but adored by one in particular, the Long-tailed Skipper. The Long-tailed Skipper is a medium sized butterfly with a pair of long tails on its gray-brown wings and a brilliant iridescent-turquoise back. Its caterpillars eat various species of legume including, garden beans, but most relevant is Spurred Butterfly Pea. It’s rare to find a patch of Butterfly Pea that doesn’t have a colony of Long-tailed Skippers in tow. The caterpillars of Long-tailed Skippers can easily be spotted by their handiwork. They’re leaf rollers who’ll fold a rectangular flap of leaf atop themselves to eat in privacy and relative safety until they’re large enough to fold a whole leaf over. Many of you gardeners may know them instead as Bean Leafrollers, as they’re a common pest of Garden Beans and Cowpeas. However, in the wild, Spurred Butterfly Pea is the palate’s preference.

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