Originally from Africa and Asia, now butterfly peas plants can be found all over the world. There are between 35 and 40 different varieties. Its Latin name is Clitoria ternatea.
Butterfly peas are quite easy to grow since it is a trailing vine that produces flowers which can be white, violet or pinkish-blue. They are a good plant to add to your garden (if you live in a hotter area) since they will attract butterflies, bees and birds. Butterfly peas also have many medicinal benefits which are usually consumed by brewing a colorful butterfly pea tea.
This plant releases nitrogen which enriches your soil. Its roots have nodes that contain nitrogen fixating bacteria like Nitrosomonas. It can increase nitrogen by 30-35%, as well as adding 15-22% more potassium, sulfur and natural phosphates. Butterfly peas can be used for crop rotation to prevent nutrient depletion. It is best to plant them after heavy feeding crops like cucurbits or corn.
How to Grow Butterfly Peas
This vine is relatively low maintenance and can bloom all year. It grows quickly and can tolerate droughts. Once the plant is established it will only need water when it is dry and hot, but since it is a tropical plant it can also handle heavy rain. Seedlings will need more water to get established, then only water when needed. It is not picky about soil, but it does require drainage so you can mix sand or coco peat into the soil mixture.
Since it is a tropical plant, butterfly peas prefer full sun but they can also grow in partial shade. Shade will limit the amount of flowers the plant will produce. Humid climates are ideal with temperatures between 75-90 F (23-32 C). Those who live in colder climates can grow this vine during the summer as an annual, while it is a perennial in tropical climates.
These plants can grow quite high, more than 10 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. You can trim them to prevent over spreading. Butterfly pea can be grown in a fence, archway, or trellis. Another option would be to hang it from a basket or to plant it in a pot that is at least 6 to 8 inches deep. Pinching them regularly will make them bushier.
Butterfly Pea Problems
Thankfully this plant does not have that many problems with pests and diseases. Some garden pests may bother it including aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, grasshoppers and caterpillars. Use insecticidal soap for aphids, whitefly and spider mites. Larger insects can be picked by hand but they should not affect the plant too much. Yellow leaves are a sign of nutrient deficiency. A balanced fertilizer can be applied if this occurs.
Butterfly pea can be affected by fungal root rot disease if there is water logging. Make sure to prune your plant so it does not become leggy and that it has good support.
How to Reproduce Butterfly Peas
These are not the easiest seeds to germinate, so try to get a few more seeds than you need. You can scratch the seeds lightly with a nail file to prepare them. Another alternative is to nick them, which is done by using a sharp knife and making a slice through the seed’s outer coat. Those who live in cold climates can start these seeds indoors about 12 weeks before the warm temperature begins. Seeds which are aged between six to 10 months have a higher germination rate than newly collected seeds.
Germination takes between two to three weeks, even up to a month! Seeds will germinate faster when it is hotter. These seeds can be sown directly in the soil in ideal conditions. Otherwise check your seeds in water. Good seeds will settle on the bottom, while bad seeds will float. Soak them for 10 hours up to a day. Plant seeds in a seedling tray or in the ground.
Transplant them after they have reached a height of 4 to 5 centimeters. Be gentle when transplanting because butterfly peas do not like to have their root ball disturbed. Turn the container upside down while tapping the bottom to help release the root ball. Make sure to plant them at least 20-30 centimeters apart since they will spread. Flowering occurs after three months. It may seem slow at first, but then you will be rewarded with many flowers.
Butterfly peas can also be developed from cuttings. Cut at least 3 to 5 inches from the older part of the plant. Remove the leaves and put the cutting in a container with fresh water for a week or two until the roots appear. This plant should start blooming within the month.
How to Harvest Butterfly Peas
These flowers bloom for only a day and then shrivel and start to dry on the vine. You can harvest them when they are blooming or after they have shriveled when they can be pulled easily. You will get seeds if you leave the pod behind. Pay attention to the pods as they will start going from green to brownish purple hues as they are drying. If they die completely they can spill the seeds easily and it will be harder for you to collect them.
Store dried flowers in a jar out of sunlight at room temperature.
Uses for Butterfly Peas
The flowers produced by this vine can be used in alcoholic beverages. A few gin distilleries include them in their botanical gins since they can turn the liquid blue or pink when tonic or citrus water is added to change the pH level. This flower has colour-changing anthocyanins which have the natural ability to change the color of the extract when the pH level is manipulated. These colors can also be changed back and forth. When the pH is raised it will change to a green color.
Synthetic dies are very harmful to humans, especially children, yet they are included in so many food products because they catch the attention of buyers. There are natural alternatives such as butterfly pea, which leaves can also be used as a green colorant. Another benefit is its ability to have a longer shelf life than other plant based colorants. Usually the plant is dried to make a powder form, however fresh flowers can also be used to create the extraction. Butterfly peas can be used to dye fabric and cover gray hair.
Most of the plant is edible, including the flowers, young shoots and tender pods. In Thailand they add the flowers to sticky rice to make pulut tai tai. It can also be added to baked goods.
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