In a world where changing climate is bringing hotter, drier summers with increasing challenges to gardeners,the pigeon pea has a huge range of benefits for gardeners.
Native to India, the pigeon pea is edible and used as a staple food across Asia, Africa and South America. But it has so many other uses it is an indispensable part of a subtropical food forest.
- The ‘peas’ are extremely nutritious – high in protein, minerals, fat and vitamins A & C compared with other legumes. Picked when the pods are dry and rattling, they are used to make dal.
- It is tolerant of a range of weather conditions from drought to monsoonal rain – a must for subtropical gardeners.
- It grows rapidly into an open shrub of around 2.5 metres – great for creating fast shade or a privacy screen. Planted throughout the garden they provide dappled shade for tender veggies and seedling trees, reducing the amount of watering needed.
- As a legume, it ‘fixes’ nitrogen in the soil by growing nodules on the roots that capture and hold nitrogen. When the plant is cut back the nitrogen is released into the soil thus replenishing this essential plant nutrient.
- It can be pruned heavily and will grow back again even bushier than before, giving you an endless supply of mulch. I am now pretty well self-sufficient in mulch and just cut some branches anytime I need some.
- It is a very attractive plant with an open habit and pretty pink-yellow flowers that become pods at maturity. An added bonus is that the flowers are loved by native bees and the pods a magnet for king parrots. A pair of king parrots were visiting for some time, and then three appeared – they were bringing their baby to the feast.
- Pigeon pea self seeds readily so once you have it you will never be without it in the garden. They germinate in a warm soil so are suited to warm temperate to tropical zones, which is where this wonderful plant is most useful.
Clockwise from top left:
Dried pigeon peas; young pigeon pea about 1.5m tall; mature pigeon pea shading a mamey sapote seedling; young pigeon pea shading a custard apple seedling; pigeon pea chopped up for mulch
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