Chamaecrista fasciculata (Michx.) Greene

Showy Partridge-Pea


CC = 2
CW = 3
MOC = 94

© DETenaglia

Family - Fabaceae/Caesalpinioideae

Habit - Taprooted annual forb, with nodules present on roots.

Stems - Ascending to erect, to 90 cm, with antrorse pubescence, branching, often purplish.


© SRTurner

Leaves - Alternate, stipulate, petiolate, even-pinnate, with 10-15 pairs of leaflets. Stipules 7-16 mm long, 1-2 mm wide at base, narrowly and usually asymmetrically lanceolate-triangular, long-tapered at tip, with antrorse pubescence, erect, green, prominently veined. Petiole with a gland on the adaxial face, this sessile or occasionally short-stalked, 1.0-1.8 mm in diameter. Leaflets opposite, 10-20 mm long, 2-5 mm wide, oblong, sessile, entire, usually glabrous, glaucous below, green above, mucronate, oblique at the base, the margins short-hairy.

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_gland.jpg Gland at base of petiole.

© DETenaglia

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_leaf.jpg Leaf.

© SRTurner

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_leaflet2.jpg Leaflets abaxial.

© SRTurner

Inflorescence - Axillary clusters of 1-3 flowers, with usually only 1 flower open at a time, the stalks 10-15 mm long, the bracts 3-6 mm long, similar to stipules. Pedicels to 2 cm long, antrorse pubescent.

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_inflorescence2.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Noticeably asymmetric, 25-30 mm in diameter. Sepals 10-12 mm long, 2-3 mm wide, lanceolate, sharply pointed, often hairy. Petals 15-20 mm long, 8-18 mm wide, broadly obovate, clawed, subequal, with one lateral petal curved around the stamens, the lower petal only slightly larger than the others, yellow, some reddish-tinged toward the base, glabrous. Stamens 10, unequal, to 1 cm long, with 9 smaller stamens grouped on one side of the pistil and 1 large stamen on the opposite side, the anthers 6-10 mm long, deep purple. Ovary 4-5 mm long, hairy with white matted hairs, the style 6-7 mm long, becoming glabrous towards apex, curved.


© SRTurner

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_flower2.jpg Flower.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Legumes 3-6 cm long, 5-6 mm wide, flattened, sparsely to moderately hairy, especially along the margins, black when fully mature, elastically dehiscent. Seeds 3.2-4.0 mm long, 2.0-2.4 mm wide, nearly square, the surfaces finely pitted, dark brown to black, not shiny.

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_fruits2.jpg Immature fruit.

© SRTurner

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_fruit.jpg Mature fruit and seeds.

© SRTurner

Chamaecrista_fasciculata_seeds.jpg Seeds.

© KBildner

Flowering - July - October.

Habitat - Upland prairies, glades, forest openings, fields, pastures, roadsides, railroads.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Chamaecrista nictitans.

Other info. - This pretty plant is found throughout most of Missouri, and across most of the eastern half of the U.S. When in flower it is easy to identify, and the large yellow flowers are easy to spot along roadways. Its close sibling, C. nictitans, looks very similar except which much smaller flowers. When not flowering, the two can be hard to tell apart. The presence or absence of a stalk on the petiolar gland is apparently not reliable, at least for Missouri plants. The fruits of this species are elastically dehiscent and can fling seeds quite a good distance. Hence, the plant spreads quickly and can take over a garden if not controlled carefully. Several infraspecific forms have been described by various authors, based on numerous morphological characters, but these are not formally recognized in Missouri.

The function of the petiolar glands has been investigated in some detail. These secrete a nectar rich in sucrose, attracting a number of different insects. Most of these visitors are ants, which evict eggs and larvae of other insect species from the foliage. Plants which are kept free of ants suffer increased predation from other insects and produce fewer seeds. The pollination biology of the plants is interesting also. The flowers are buzz-pollinated by bumblebees, which are apparently guided by the large floral petal (called the cucullus) which wraps around one group of stamens.

A synonym previously used for the plant is Cassia fasciculata Michx.

Photographs taken off 63rd St, Jackson County, MO., 7-22-00, and in Ellington, MO., 6-7-03 (DETenaglia); also at Weldon Spring Conservation Area, St. Charles County, MO, 7-27-2009, Little Lost Creek Conservation Area, Warren County, MO, 8-8-2012, and B. K. Leach Memorial Conservation Area, Lincoln County, MO, 9-13-2021 (SRTurner); also at B. K. Leach Memorial Conservation Area, Lincoln County, MO, 9-13-2021 (KBildner).