Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 645 Pisum sativum

Common Names: garden pea, English pea, green pea, snap pea Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)
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'Alaska' peas
These 'Alaska' peas are almost ready for picking.


Typical garden peas or English peas are classified as Pisum sativum var. sativum. Popular varieties include: 'Alderman' (a.k.a. 'Tall Telephone'), which grows to 5 ft (1.5 m) or more in height, has large peas (8-10 per pod) and large pods to 5 in (12.7 cm) long, is exceptionally sweet, and takes longer (75 days) to mature than most; 'Alaska' which is the earliest maturing of all (55 days), starchier and not as sweet as some, 5-7 peas per pod, and best for cooking; and 'Novella', one of the semi-leafless types that produces a profusion of interlocking tendrils that support each other, forming a tangled little hedge, and negating the need for a trellis.

The flat, edible-podded snow peas (a.k.a. mangetout peas, sugar peas or Chinese peas) are var. macrocarpon. Popular snow pea varieties are 'Mammoth Melting Sugar', which produces thick, succulent edible pods to 4.5 in (11.4 cm) long; 'Oregon Sugar Pod', which is earlier and smaller; and 'Snowflake', which has shorter vines and can be grown without support. Snow peas have stringless pods.

pea trellis
Most pea varieties require a support to climb - like the nylon trellis shown here.

Field peas or soup peas, are grown for the dried seeds which are used in soups and stews as well as for livestock fodder and as a cover crop. These are var. arvense, and there are many old heirloom cultivars.

The new edible-podded snap peas are the result of a cross between snow peas and an unusual pea that had tightly packed pods with thick walls. Snap peas were introduced in the late 1970's and the first variety, 'Sugar Snap' was named an All American Selection in 1979. Snap peas produce thick, full-bodied, edible pods and extremely sweet, full size peas. The pods snap when bent like fresh green beans. There are about a dozen varieties available. Some of the newest cultivars ('Sugar Pop', 'Sugar Daddy') are stringless.

'Dwarf Gray Sugar' pea
'Dwarf Gray Sugar' is a snow pea with pretty purple flowers.


Left over garden peas, Pisum sativum, more than 6000 years old have been uncovered in Stone Age pantries in Jericho. Peas probably were first domesticated in Turkey. They have been cultivated for at least 3000 years. The original species from which garden peas were developed still grows wild in the eastern Mediterranean region, including Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.


Peas are a cool season crop. In the north they are planted as soon as the soil can be worked and harvested before summer heat sets in. In Florida they are planted in December, January or February and harvested in March or April. Peas usually aren't planted in fall because frost, although it won't hurt the developing plants, will kill the blossoms. Most varieties of peas should be given support. A trellis, fence or even a twig stuck in the ground will allow the vines to climb and keep the blossoms and pods off the ground. Light: Peas do best in full sun until it starts getting too hot. When temperatures reach above 80ºF (26.7ºC), peas do better with some shade from the mid-day sun. Moisture: Regular watering is best for good production. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 10. Little seedlings are damaged by temperatures below about 24ºF (-4.4ºC), but larger plants can take it down to 20ºF (-6.7ºC) or so. Even if freeze-damaged seedlings survive, they will be stunted and a new crop of replanted peas will beat them to harvest. Propagation: Seeds are planted 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) deep, about 2 in (5 cm) apart. If planting in soil where peas have not grown for several years, it is a good idea to dust the seeds with a pea-specific bacterial inoculant, available from seed dealers, before planting. See features, below.


Typical English peas are grown for the peas within the pod and are harvested when the pods are mature and fully rounded for fresh eating, canning or freezing, or they are harvested when the pods begin to dry for dry storage. Snow peas are eaten pod and all and harvested while the pods are still flat and the peas inside are very small. Snap peas can be shelled or eaten pod and all, but they are harvested when the pods are mature and fully rounded. If you only grow one kind of pea, make it a snap pea. These can be used in oriental stir fry like snow peas, eaten pod and all like green beans, or shelled out for the sweetest peas you can imagine. Whereas typical garden peas become starchier and less sweet as they mature, snap peas are at their sweetest when fully mature and their pods are so full they seem ready to burst.

Make a hearty pea soup using pureed snap peas (pods and all) as the basis of the stock. Add some whole peas (not the pods), chopped onions, carrots and mushrooms, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Here's a pretty pea palette of Steve's favorite varieties.


Peas are members of the huge legume family, one of our most useful plant families. Some legumes are used as cover crops (e.g., alfalfa, clover, field peas), that are plowed into the ground to fertilize other crops, and all legumes are excellent sources of dietary protein (e.g., soybeans, peanuts). Proteins contain large amounts of nitrogen.

All plants require nitrogen, but most cannot get it from the air even though the air is 78% nitrogen. Instead, they must get it indirectly from nitrogen-containing compounds (ammonia, urea, etc.) excreted by other organisms. Legumes literally make their own fertilizer. Legumes have nodules on their roots which, with the help of a soil bacterium (Rhizobium spp.), absorb and use gaseous nitrogen from the air that's in the soil. The bacteria convert ("fix") elemental nitrogen into a form (ammonium ions) that the plant can use. In return, the plant's roots supply the bacteria with energy-rich carbohydrates. The alliance is beneficial to both host plant and bacteria, and is one of the most important symbiotic relationships in all of nature.

Steve Christman 2/5/00; updated 8/26/03, 2/9/10

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Pisum species profiled on Floridata:

Pisum sativum

( garden pea, English pea, green pea, snap pea )

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