sweet peas

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky has been photographing spring flowers up a storm — recently, very heavy on irises of several types and a lot of sweet peas, both of which are visually interesting as they develop. As for the sweet peas, there are two species that are commonly grown; they are called sweet because they are scented, and peas because they are have characteristic pea-like flowers (and, like edible peas, climb on supports by means of tendrils). (The genus name, Lathyrus, is not very interesting etymologically: < modern Latin, < Greek λάθυρος a kind of vetch.)

Wikipedia entries for the two species:

1. The annual.

Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) is a flowering plant in the genus Lathyrus in the family Fabaceae (legumes), native to the Sicily, southern Italy and the Aegean Islands.

It is an annual climbing plant, growing to a height of 1–2 meters (nearly six feet and six inches), where suitable support is available. The leaves are pinnate with two leaflets and a terminal tendril, which twines around supporting plants and structures helping the sweet pea to climb. The flowers are purple, 2-3.5 centimeters broad, in the wild plant, larger and very variable in color in the many cultivars.

… Sweet peas have been cultivated since the 17th century and a vast number of cultivars are commercially available. They are grown for their flower colour (usually in pastel shades of blue, pink, purple and white [also red, but not yellow], including bi-colours), and for their intense unique fragrance.

… Henry Eckford (1823–1905), a Scottish nurseryman, cross-bred and developed the sweet pea, turning it from a rather insignificant, if sweetly scented flower, into the floral sensation of the late Victorian era.


(Grown from seed as a spring-blooming plant; blooms later in the season when planted as nursery-grown young plants or plugs.)

2. The perennial.

Lathyrus latifolius, the perennial peavine, perennial pea, or everlasting sweet pea, is a flowering plant of the genus Lathyrus in the legume family Fabaceae. It is native to Europe but is present on other continents, such as North America and Australia, where it is an introduced species.

Lathyrus latifolius is a perennial herbaceous vine (climber), which can reach 6 feet or more by means of twining tendrils, but in open areas sprawls. It is frost-hardy, long-lived, and slowly spreading

… It is less strongly-scented than the related annual sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, with which it may be confused.


It might be less strongly scented, but it’s definitely scented — and there are cultivars advertised as being highly scented.

Perennial sweet pea naturalizes easily, to the point of becoming invasive in favorable settings.

As for confusing the two species, I really don’t know how to tell them apart; that’s a matter of learning small discriminating features. I might write fairly often about plants, but I’m actually a linguist.

Leave a Reply