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Invasive Sweet Pea

Annual sweet peas are delightfully fragrant and come in a variety of colors. However,...

Close up of a pink perennial, sweet pea.

Photo: Blockwork (Flickr)

According to his records, Thomas Jefferson planted perennial sweet peas in his garden in 1807.

Annual sweet peas are delightfully fragrant and come in a variety of colors. However, the perennial sweet pea, Lathyrus latifolius, which has naturalized along the roadsides of North America, does not smell at all. A native of Southern Europe and Northern Africa, it has been around for a long time—probably since the early 1700′s.

According to his records, Thomas Jefferson planted it in his garden in 1807. And it was very popular in England during Victorian times when many cultivated varieties were grown. Some of the cultivated varieties in England were even named after royalty and other celebrities of the time.

Pullin’ A Houdini

Today, the plant is known to be tough, with Houdini-like tendencies, since it regularly has escaped from gardens in most of the states in USA. However, it has not flourished in Florida because of the heat and humidity, nor in North Dakota or Alaska because of the extreme temperature.

It seems to grow enthusiastically everywhere else, naturalizing in open fields and in abandoned gardens where it quickly gets out of control. The plant propagates easily from seed and is known by a variety of common names such as perennial sweet pea, Brede Lathrys broadleaf pea, everlasting sweet pea, pea vine, and wild sweet pea.

It is usually a purplish pink, but occasionally deep purple or pure white. Admire it from a distance, for it is both toxic and invasive.

Always before about my dooryard,

Marking the reach of the winter sea,

Rooted in sand and dragging driftwood,

Straggled the purple wild sweet pea.

–Edna St. Vincent Millay
Read More: Invasive Sweet Pea.


Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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  • Gary

    Why would Thomas Jefferson plant it in his garden if it’s poisonous?

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