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Hairypod Cowpea
harrypod cowpea
Hairypod cowpea, photographed at Peaceful Waters Preserve, Wellington, Palm Beach County, in March 2017.
hairypod cowpea

Hairypod cowpea, vigna luteola, is edible but there is no evidence that consuming it on New Year's Day with pork and sauerkraut will bring good luck. For that, you'll have eat one of its relatives, Vigna unguiculata.

Hairypod cowpea gets its name from, uh, its hairy pods. It also answers to deerpea, wild cowpea and yellow vigna. It is native to Florida, where its found in pinelands and coastal uplands, in most of the state, particularly the Peninsula. In places, it's an extraordinarily common plant.

Its native range includes the southeastern United States from Virginia to Texas, even as far north as parts of Pennsylvania. It's also found in Mexico, Central and South America. Some say it originated in coastal parts of Africa and made its way westward across the Atlantic. It's also found in Asia and parts of the Pacific, including Hawaii, where it was a staple of the traditional medicine cabinet.

Hairypod cowpea is a small vine that will trail along the ground or twine itself among nearby vegetation. The literature says it will top out about four feet, but we've seen it a few feet more off the ground. It has compound leaves, each with three oval to lance-shaped leaflets.

The flowers are bright yellow and appear in small clusters. The fruit is those small, thin, hairy pods that have a series of indentations created by the seeds. When fully mature, the seeds are about five milimeters long and reddish brown in color. In northern parts of its range, hairypod cowpea is an annual, blooming in spring and summer and fruiting in the fall. Here in South Forida, it is a perennial, blooming year-round.

hairypod cowpea

It's usually found relatively close to the coast, the biggest documented exception, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's PLANTS database, is Bedford County in mountainous south-central Pennsylvania. Pinelands, coastal uplands and disturbed areas, such as roadsides, are primary habitats.

It is a tough plant. It likes full sun, tolerates livestock grazing, the occasional fire, periodic flooding and drought. It tolerates salt wind and doesn't need much in the way of nutrients. In fact, it is a legume, meaning it actually returns nitrogen to the soil.

Hairypod cowpea is a host plant for several butterflies, including the cassius blue, gray hairstreak, long-tailed skipper and dorantes skipper. Some birds will forage for the seeds.

Hairypod cowpea might not bring the consumer but it's full of good stuff. It's about 17.5 percent protein and particularly high in an amino acid called cystine, which is a component in hair and skin. The body uses it to make an antioxident called glutathione. It also plays a role in the immune system. Hairypod cowpea flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, and the peas boiled. In Malawi and Ethiopia, the flowers are cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Children in Malawi also peel and chew the roots. In Hawaii, it's been used as a skin aid, as a treament for asthma and as tonic for mothers and children.

Hairypod cowpea is a member of Fabaceae, the pea family.

Photographs by David Sedore
hairypod cowpea florida
  United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) distribution maps for hairypod cowpea.  
hairypod cowpea
Links for Hairypod Cowpea
All photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.