Common Name: Caley Pea
Lathyrus hirsutus is an annual plant forming erect to clambering stems that branch from the base and attach themselves to nearby vegetation by means of tendrils; the plant can grow up to 50cm tall[
The plant is used as a green manure and soil improver.
All parts of the plant, but especially the seed, contain a toxic amino-acid. It is produced in the plant at about the same time that the seed starts to develop. In small quantities the amino acid is innocuous, and the seeds of several Lathyrus species are eaten as a nutritious part of the diet. However, in larger quantities (the seed should form less than 30% of a balanced diet), it can cause a very serious disease of the nervous system known as 'lathyrism'. Symptoms appear as a paralysis of the muscles below the knees, pains in the back, followed by weakness and stiffness of the legs and progressive locomotive incoordination[
Eurasia - Germany to Portugal, east through southern Russia and Greece to central Asia and the Himalayas; N. Africa - Macaronesia, Morocco to Egypt
Fields, weedy places, shrubby formations, rarely in meadows, forests, river valleys, in mountains; at elevations up to 1,880 metres[
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Lathyrus hirsutus is a moderately cold-hardy plant, able to tolerate temperatures down to around -15°c when fully dormant
Species in this genus generally grow well when given a position in full sun in most, moderately fertile, well-drained soils[
This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[
The plant is used as a green manure and soil cover for preventing erosion and for rehabilitating degraded land[
Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in warm water and then sow in early spring in a cold frame[
]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer.
Seeds can be sown in situ, and are often sown in the autumn in areas with mild winters.