This article appeared in the December 2001 issue of Vegetable Production & Marketing News,
edited by Frank J. Dainello, Ph.D., and produced by Extension Horticulture,
Texas Cooperative Extension, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.

A pea is a pea, or IS IT?

This article by M. J. Stephens, University of Florida,
Vegetable Crop Department, appeared in “The Vegetarian,” 96-05

It appears that there is confusion among consumers as to the difference between “cowpeas” and “Southern peas.” The answer is simple; there are no differences, they are one in the same. However, these so-called “peas” are not really peas at all but beans.

There are many different varieties of cowpeas as well as many unnamed strains of this excellent human food legume. Part of the confusion in knowing precisely which of these varieties or strains one might have is due to the many growers saving their own seed. Once true varietal identity becomes lost and a new local name is given, no one knows for sure what it is. As the seeds are spread around, various names are given to what started out as one variety. What might have been called “Georgia Peach” in that state now becomes “Florida Cream” in Florida, and so on.

Some years ago, over 50 of these actual varieties and strains were identified. Through testing, each one was shown to be a little different from the others. Since then, many other varieties have been added to the list through the efforts of plant breeders around the country, particularly in the South. The 1987 edition of the Garden Seed Inventory, a survey of the offerings of the seed industry, lists 84 varieties.

The following groupings are offered to provide the gardener with a way to classify more closely his unknown seed stock.

With the exception of the Purple Hull group and the Long Pod group, the classification is based mostly on color of the seed and seed-eye, and the closeness of spacing of seeds in the pod. Many of these names are synonymous.

Varieties with seeds that are so closely spaced that the seed ends are pressed against each other are called Crowders. Each seed has slightly blunted ends from this compression. Seed color varies, but is either concentrated around the seed-eye (hilum) or is general all over the seed coat. Any amount of seed color causes darkening of the ‘pot-liquor’ and the cooked seeds.

Those varieties that have no color are called Creams. Most of the cream peas are loosely spaced, and are called ‘conch’ peas. However, cream crowder varieties are available (example ‘Zipper Cream’). The Purple Hull group includes those having some purple coloring on their pods, even though they may fit into another grouping due to other characteristics.

Further confusing the issue is the plant growth habit, there being bush, vining, and semi-vining habit. These groupings will not deal with plant habit.

  1. Blackeye Group
    The seeds are not crowded in the pods. They are white, with dark black eyes.
    Examples: Ramshorn Blackeye, California Blackeye #5, Giant Ramshorn, Extra Early Blackeye, Blackeye Crowder, Queen Anne, and Royal Blackeye.
  2. Blackeye Crowder Group
    Similar to regular blackeyes, except the seeds are crowded in the pods.
    Example: Alacrowder.
  3. Colored-eye Group
    This group has seed-eye coloring other than black. Usually it is brown, tan, or pink. Seeds not crowded.
    Examples: Alalong (Longhorn), Todd, Alabunch, Big Boy, Texas Big Boy, and Royal Pink Eye.
  4. Colored-eye Crowder Group
    Same as above (No. 3), except seeds are crowded in pods. Includes Red “holstein eye” pattern.
    Examples: Pinkeye Crowder, Browneye Crowder, White Pinkeye. Calico (Hereford), and Alabrowneye.
  5. Black Crowder Group
    The Seeds are solid black when dry, purple when immature. Seed most always crowded.
    Example: Black Crowder.
  6. Brown Crowder Group
    Most crowders fit into this group, and most all brown seeds fit here. Some seeds are tan colored, with only slightly darker eyes.
    Examples: Grown Crowder, Sugar Crowder, Silverskin Crowder, Alabama Crowder (not the same as Alacrowder), Mississippi Silverbrown, Jackson 21, Dixie-Lee, Producer, Calhoun Crowder, and Colossus.
  7. Speckle Crowder Group
    Speckled blue seeds are moderately crowded in pods. Have largest seeds of the Southern peas.
    Examples: Blue Goose (Gray Goose), Whittle, Speckled Java, Gray Crowder, and Taylor.
  8. Cream Group (Conch)
    Seeds are light green or white, and relatively small. Cooking water comes out bright and clear. Since most creams are uncrowded, most fit into this group.
    Examples: Floricream, Sadandy, Cabbage (Bush White Acre), Running Acre (Running Conch), Topset, Snapea, Climax, Bush Conch, White Acre, Terrace, Gentlemen, Texas Creams (40, 8 12 others), Elite, Freezegreen, Mississippi Cream, and Royal Cream.
  9. Cream Crowder Group
    Uncolored seeds, but crowded in pods.
    Examples: Lady Cream, Lady Finger (Rice or Catjang), White Sugar Crowder (actually have a colored eye, so would fit the colored-eye crowder group), Zipper Cream (also called Zipper Peas), Mississippi Silver, and Royal Cream Crowder.
  10. Purple Hull Group
    Seed pods show some purple coloring, either at tip or all over. Seeds may or may not be crowded. Usually white peas with buff, brown, or pink eyes.
    Examples: Jackson Purple Hull, Dixie Queen, Herbken, Knuckle Purple Hull, Pinkeye Purple Hull, Purple Tip Crowder, Purple Hull, Big Boy Purple Hull, Coronet, and Crimson.
  11. Field and Forage Group
    This group includes all those grown most usually for forage cropping and soil improvement. However, they make o.k. table fare.
    Examples: Iron, Clay, Whipporwill, New Era, Groit, Brabham, Victor, Arlington, Red Ripper, Columbia, Michigan Favorite, Chinese Red Pea, Coronet, and Tetapeche Gray.
  12. Long Pod Group
    This group is characterized by having extra-long pods. Length ranges from over 10 inches up to 36 inches.
    Example: An example of a 10-inch variety is ‘Snapea’ developed by Al Lorz in Florida. A long example would be the yard-long variety called ‘Yard-long Bean’ (Vigna unguiculata, subspecies sesquipedalis (L.) Verde. Its unusually long pods are borne on trailing, climbing vines reaching 9 to 12 feet in length, requiring trellising. The pods are snapped instead of being shelled.