Florida’s Fabulous Fabaceae Family

By Becca Massip

Figure 1: The Pineland Butterfly Pea, Centrosema arenicola,
is an endangered species found in Duval County, Florida
Photo credit: Shirley Denton
This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Plant Taxonomy students at Jacksonville University. FNPS blogger Laurie Sheldon assisted the students with their initial drafts, providing suggestions for editing and content development.

The Fabaceae family is known as the Pea Family. It is the third largest family amongst flowering plants, containing over 16,000 species. There are 314 species in Florida alone, 168 of which are natives! This family is found in temperate and tropical environments all over the world however, most species prefer seasonally dry habitats. This family is very unique because it can directly fix atmospheric nitrogen with the help of root nodulating bacteria.

Leaves: simple, trifoliate, pinnate, or bipinnate
Fruit: legume
Flower: zygomorphic or actinomorphic

Figure 2: Peas are healthy for the human body.
Photo credit: Bill Ebbeson
The Fabaceae family includes three subfamilies: Mimosoideae, Caesalpinioideae, and Faboideae. Species within Faboideae are common throughout Florida and are easy to detect by their butterfly-like flower shape (Figure 1). The flower’s petals make it easy for pollinators like bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, birds, bats, and beetles to take nectar. The Fabaceae family is most famous for its fruit, which is a legume, or pod. When the pod is ripe, it opens along the edges to release the seeds.

The Fabaceae family has many important uses. The seeds contain large amounts of protein and oil, which are healthy for the human body (Figure 2). Some herbs are grown for their grain, while others are grown to be consumed by farm animals. There are also many species in this family that are used for decoration due to their bright colors and unique shapes!

Figure 4: Sickle Bush, Dichrostachys
, is found throughout Africa.
Photo credit: Atamari
Figure 3: Wattle, the floral emblem of Australia.
Photo credit: Melburnian

Fun Facts

The peanut is a legume that develops below the ground!

The biggest pods of the Central American legume, Entada gigas, can be up to 5 feet long!



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