Field Pea (Pisum sativum L. subsp. sativum var. arvense (L.) Poir.)

Common Name:

Field Pea

Scientific Name:

Pisum sativum L. subsp. sativum var. arvense (L.) Poir.


Pisum arvense L. [basionym]





Pea probably originated in southwestern Asia, possibly northwestern India, Pakistan or adjacent areas of former USSR and Afghanistan and thereafter spread to the temperate zones of Europe. Based on genetic diversity, four centers of origins, namely, Central Asia, the Near East, Abyssinia and the Mediterranean have been recognized. Non-pigmented peas to be used as a vegetable were grown in United Kingdom in the middle Ages. Pea was introduced into the Americas soon after Columbus and a winter type pea was introduced from Austria in 1922. Pea was taken to China in the first century. Peas were reported to be originally cultivated as a winter annual crop in the Mediterranean region.

Time of introduction:

Around 1500. Winter type: 1922


Peas are a highly productive annual legume requiring a cool, relatively humid climate and are grown at higher altitudes in tropical areas. Peas have flowers that differ in color according to cultivar with white, pink, lavender, blue and purple represented. Pods containing several seeds, flattened when young but becoming roundish later, are dehiscent along two sides. Seeds are globose or angled, smooth or wrinkled, exalbuminous, whitish, gray, green, or brownish. Field Peas do well on a variety of soils, but they are best adapted to clay soils and alluvial bottom areas. They are intolerant of drought which has a particularly adverse effect on production if it occurs at flowering. Field peas can be grazed by a range of livestock, but should be strip-grazed to avoid wastage. Field peas produce a high nutritive value, protein-rich forage, but there is a possible risk of bloat when grazed. Risk is lessened by the presence of condensed tannins in the forage, the levels of which can vary appreciably.

Life cycle (annual/biennial/perennial):


Growth habit & Regrowth type:

Upright growth form with tangled vegetation, though late-maturing types are more prostrate than early-maturing types.

Invasive potential:



Image Gallery: The OSU Forage Information System contains an Image Gallery that includes Field Pea photographs and drawings useful in identification. The URL for the gallery is:

The direct URL for Field Pea is:

Inflorescence: On each plant, inflorescences comprising one or two self-fertile flowers are borne on the end of axillary peduncles. The inflorescence is a raceme arising from the axil of the leaf. Corolla white, or pink, or purple; pods swollen or compressed, short-stalked, straight or curved, 1.6 to 5.9 inches (4-15 cm) long, 0.6 to 1 inch (1.5-2.5 cm) wide, 2-10 seeded, 2-valved, dehiscent on both sutures.

Flower: Flower color differs according to cultivar with white, pink, lavender, blue and purple represented. Field pea flower image.

Seed: Pods containing several seeds, flattened when young but becoming roundish later, are dehiscent along two sides. Seeds are globose or angled, smooth or wrinkled, exalbuminous, whitish, gray, green, or brownish; 100 seeds can weigh from 10 to 36 grams; germination cryptocotylar Field pea seed image. Seed pod image.

Stem: Field pea has angular or roundish hollow stems covered with a waxy bloom. They are stems weak, round, and slender, 11.8 to 59.1 inches (30-150 cm) long.

Leaf: In leafy types, leaves consist of 1-3 pairs of opposite leaflets 0.6 to 2.4 inches (1.5-6 cm long) borne on petioles together with several pairs of tendrils (which are essentially modified leaves) and a single or compound terminal tendril. Leaflets broad and ovate with distinct ribs, and slightly toothed or entire. In semi-leafless types the leaflets are replaced by tendrils but the stipules are still present while in leafless types the leaflets are also replaced by tendrils but the stipules are stunted. The two leafless types have better standing ability than the leafy types.

Stipules: The two (pseudo) stipules at the base of the leaf are also ovate but much larger than the leaflets. They are leaflike and up to 3.9 (10 cm) long.

Root: The plants are tap-rooted, 3.3 feet (l m) or more in depth, with numerous lateral roots.

Physiology and growth period:

In temperate areas, spring/early summer for early-sown crops, summer/autumn for later-sown crops. Grown in winter when grown as a cool-season crop in warm, temperate areas.


Field pea is self-pollinated.

Quality/anti-quality factors:

High forage yield in relatively short growth period. High nutritive value. Protein-rich. Highly acceptable feed for different classes of stock. Good intake characteristics.

Possible risk of bloat when grazed but risk is probably lessened by the presence in the forage of condensed tannins the levels of which can vary appreciably.



Forage peas can also be grown in the tropics at high altitudes and as a cool-season (winter) crop in some regions with hot dry summers.

Suitability zones:



Climate: Peas require a cool, relatively humid climate and are grown at higher altitudes in tropics with temperatures from 44 to 86 F (7-30 C) and production is concentrated between the Tropics of Cancer and 50 degrees N. As a winter annual, pea tolerates frost to 28 F (-2 C) in the seedling stage, although top growth may be affected at 21 F (-6 C). Winter hardy peas can withstand 14 F (-10 C), and with snow cover protection, tolerance can be increased to -40 F (-40 C). The optimum temperature levels for the vegetative and reproductive periods of peas were reported to be 69 and 60 F (21 and 16 C), and 60 and 50 F (16 and 10 C) (day and night), respectively. Temperatures above 80 F (27 C) shorten the growing period and adversely affect pollination. A hot spell is more damaging to peas than a light frost. Peas can be grown successfully during midsummer and early fall in those areas having relatively low temperatures and a good rainfall, or where irrigation is practiced.

Soils: Peas do well on a variety of soils, but they are best adapted to clay soils and alluvial bottom areas. They are intolerant of drought which has a particularly adverse effect on production if it occurs at flowering. Field pea requires free-draining soils since intolerant of waterlogging. Sandy or medium-loam, moderately fertile soils are particularly suitable. Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0 but not overlimed since this will result in manganese deficiency (marsh spot) especially organic soils.

Grazing Management: Can be grazed by a range of livestock, e.g. dairy cows. Should be strip-grazed to avoid wastage. Zero grazing is possible but avoidance of soil contamination of the forage when cutting is important.

Turf Management: Field Pea is not a turf species.

Pests: Diseases: The main threat is damping-off of seedlings but this is controllable by a fungicide seed dressing. The use of certified disease-free seed will prevent other seedling diseases such as foot rots (Fusarium spp. and Ascochyta spp.). Also, the chosen cultivars should be resistant to Fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. pisi) and downy mildew (Peronospora viciae) since there are no effective fungicide treatments available.

Pests: Insects: Insect pests include Aphis cracivora (Groundnut aphid), Acyrthosiphon pisum (Pea aphid), Kakothrips robustus (Pea thrips), Bruchis pisorum (Pea seed beetle), Callosobruchus chinensis (Adzuki bean seed beetle), Apion sp. (Seed weevil), Sitona lineatus (Bean weevil), Contarina pisi (Pea midge), Helicoverpa armigera (African bollworm), Diachrysia obliqua (Pod borer), Agriotis sp. (Cut worms), Cydia nigricana (Pea moth), Phytomuza horticola (Leaf minor), Heliothis Zea (American bollworm), Etiella Zinckenella (Lima bean pod borer), Ophiomyia phaseoli (Bean fly), Delia platura (Bean seed fly), Tetranychus sp. (Spider mites).

Pests: Nematodes: Nematodes that can damage field pea include Pratylenchus penetrants (Root lesion nematodes), Ditylenchus dipsaci (Stem nematode), Heterodera goettingiana (Pea cyst nematode), and Meloidogyne javanica (Root knot nematode).


Feed-type pea varieties include Austrian Winter and Fenn. Austrian Winter has been the most widely used cultivar in the south because of its winter hardiness when planted in the fall. Fenn was developed by the University of Idaho and released in 1971. It is winter hardy and moderately resistant to gray stem canker (Ascochyta caulicola). This variety, because of its disease resistance, is expected to replace Austrian Winter in the South.

Edible-type pea varieties (EFB33, Garfield, Latch, Melrose, and Pacer) are less winter hardy (and thus are sown in spring) and are seldom used for forage.


Vendors will not be part of the "beneficial species white papers."

See the Forage Information System variety database for a listing of vendors.


Field peas have a growth period of 12-18 weeks depending upon cultivar. In temperate areas, most vigorous growth from spring-sowing. Lodging can occur with increasing maturity, particularly under wet conditions. Generally grows best between 50 to 68 F (10 C and 20 C).

Seed of field peas is difficult to cover if you use broadcast methods. Drilling methods are preferred to assure a uniform depth and rate of seeding. At higher elevations with 20 inches (50 cm) or more of precipitation, peas and oats should be spring-planted for a hay or silage crop. On irrigated land, however, peas are used only as a "catch crop" with another crop planted in July or August to make more economical use of the land. Turnips are frequently sown by air into areas previously used for peas.

Seeding rate:

When they are grown with oats, 90 to 120 lbs (40-54 kg) of peas and 50 lbs (22 kg) of oats are sown per acre. If peas are sown alone, increase the planting rate to 140 lbs/acre (156 kg/ha). When seed is drilled with a grain drill into a well-prepared, moist seedbed, 90 lbs (40 kg) of seed per acre is sufficient.

Seeding depth:

Ideally drilled at 2.95 inches (7.5 cm) depth on a level seed-bed so that after soil consolidation by rolling, seeds are at 1.2 to 2 inches (3-5 cm) depth. Drill rows are usually 5.9 to 7.9 inches (15-20 cm) apart.

Fertilization and liming:

Properly inoculated peas will not require N fertilization because of the nitrogen provided symbiotically by nitrogen fixation. Be sure to obtain the proper Rhizobium species for peas; all Rhizobium are not alike and will not work interchangeably. You can determine phosphorus and potassium requirements of field peas by soil testing. A pH of 5.7 or greater is suggested for annual legumes. The amount of lime required to raise the soil pH to 5.7 will depend upon the soil type and buffering capacity. An SMP buffer test will provide the necessary information to determine liming needs. Always apply lime several weeks prior to seeding to allow time for the limestone to change the soil pH value.


In the recent past the field pea was mainly used as a leguminous constituent in cereal/legume mixtures grown for arable silage (and this is still the main purpose for which it is used). Field peas are grown for grain, hay, filage, and as a cover or green manure crop.

Seed crop:


As a forage, peas usually are grown with a small grain, most often with oats. Peas also can be used as a crop to be harvested by turning livestock into the field. Field peas are easy to grow and produce a highly palatable forage.

Erosion Control/Conservation:

Wildlife habitat and feed:


Field Pea is not a turf species.

Economic value:



Field Pea is not a turf species.

Soil and water conservation:



  1. Frame, J. 2004. Pisum sativum L. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Data Sheet [Online]. Available at (verified 05 August 2004).
  2. Hannaway, D.B., and W.S. McGuire. 1982. Growing Field Peas for Forage. Oregon State University Extension Service. Corvallis, OR. Available at (verified 02 August 2004).
  3. Muehlbauer, F.J., and A. Tullu. 1997. Pisum sativum L. NewCROP FactSHEET. Center for News Crops and Plant Products. Purdue University. West Lafayette, IN. Available at (verified 05 August 2004).
  4. USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 [Online]. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Available at (verified 02 August 2004).


David B. Hannaway and Christina Larson, Oregon State University

Document creation:

02 August 2004

Last update:

05 August 2004


Review date: