Conservation // 5 min Read

Gardening for Nature: Legumes

Written by Aaron Palmieri

Sep 14, 2020

Palmetto Bluff is graced with a diversity of plants belonging to the Fabaceae family, better known as legumes. These plants are present in an array of habitats and are easily distinguishable by the seed pods they produce. What may be surprising is this group of plants is also diverse in their growth habits. From long twisting vines of butterfly pea and American wisteria to small woody shrubs of lespedeza and indigo, and even the beautiful Eastern redbud, are all classified as legumes. However, not all members of the Fabaceae family are great to have around as kudzu and Chinese wisteria are both highly invasive legumes that were introduced to North America.

So why include native legumes in the garden? The biggest reason is they provide food for a wide range of organisms in multiple ways. All species of Fabaceae rely on insect pollinators, which involves providing nectar for these insects. The foliage itself is great forage for rabbits, deer, and young caterpillars while the seed pods provide food for quail, turkeys, and seed-eating songbirds. Not only are legumes providing food for wildlife, but they are also producing nutrients that neighboring plants can take advantage of. Legumes are nitrogen fixating plants and have the unique ability to convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into forms usable by other plants due to their relationship with soil bacteria called rhizobia. This adaptation introduces nitrogen into the soil which can provide food for other plants!

Interested in including legumes in the garden? Here is a handful of species native to Beaufort County that are good additions to your yard:

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – deciduous tree

White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba) – bushy perennial

Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) – annual forb*

Coralbean (Erythrina herbacea) – bushy perennial

Carolina Indigo (Indigofera caroliniana) – bushy perennial

Slender Lespedeza (Lespedeza virginica) – perennial forb*

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) – perennial forb*

Goat’s Rue (Tephrosia virginiana) – perennial forb*

*Forbs are herbaceous flowering plants. They are neither grass-like nor woody in structure.