Lathyrus maritimus (Beach Pea)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy soil, mostly lake shores
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:1 to 2 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Tight cluster of 6 to 10 pea-shaped flowers at the end of long smooth stem arising from the upper leaf axils, the flower stem shorter than the stem of the attending compound leaf. Flowers are ½ to ¾ inch long, about 3/8 inch across, the upper petal (standard) flaring out on the sides, rich purple with darker veination. The pale violet to white lateral wings below it enclose a small light lavender keel underneath. The calyx holding the flower is attached to a short stalk, both are smooth.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound with 3 to 6 leaflet pairs and a branched tendril at the tip. Leaflets are 1 to 2 inches long and about half as wide, oval to elliptic, narrowed at both ends. A pair of leafy appendages (stipules) nearly as large as the leaflets attend the leaves at the axil; they resemble a pair of stalkless, opposite arrowhead-shaped leaves. Stems are angled and unbranched, with multiple stems arising from rhizomatous root system, forming dense clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a smooth flat pod, 1½ to 3 inches long and nearly ½ inch wide.


Beach Pea is a circumboreal species and can be found along the Pacific coast of North America and throughout parts of Asia and Europe. In Minnesota it is mostly restricted to Superior's north shore with a few inland locations. The only pea type flower it can be mistaken for is the widely distributed Veiny Pea, L. venosus, whose flowers are nearly identical. The biggest distinctions are Veiny Pea is a much less compact grower, typically to 3 feet tall with more than 10 flowers in a cluster and much smaller stipules with acutely angled tips. Veiny Pea can be found in a variety of habits throughout much of the state. Beach Pea would be an interesting species to try in a sandier garden site though probably would not perform well in hot locations. This species has 2 varieties (or subspecies, depending on which reference you look at): var. glaber, which also goes by Lathyrus japonicus var. maritimus, is overall hairless and the species found in Minnesota and the Great Lakes region.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Floodbay, Lake County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken along Highway 53 north of Duluth in St. Louis county.


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