Gardeners can choose pea plants for the food they produce, or other types of pea plants for their flowers and abundant and attractive scent. Some pea plants in the vegetable garden produce bright blooms before going to fruit. Usually classed as a vegetable, the pea is technically a fruit. Typically used in cooking, peas are known scientifically as Pisum sativum.
The Pisum sativum pea plant is a cool-temperature annual with a growth season of one year and maturation within 60 days of planting. The garden pea is a self-pollinating plant and performs best in a home garden made of sandy, well drained, slightly alkaline soil. Pea plants should be situated in full sun for maximum growth.
There are two notable variations on the common pea: the snow pea and the sugar snap pea. Snow peas are known scientifically as Pisum sativum v. saccharatum. Snow peas differ from the typical pea in that the pea pods have a whitish hue, as opposed to the typical green. Snow peas grow best toward the end of winter and can survive harsh snows, hence the name.
Sugar snap peas are known as Pisum sativum v. macrocarpon. Some pea varieties present as a bush; sugar snap cultivars grow as a pea vine. Sugar snap peas require support in the form of a trellis or other climbing system in order to thrive. Sugar snap peas are more adaptable than other pea plant types because they are able to grow in warmer temperatures than other pea types.
Some edible crops bear the name pea but are not directly related to garden peas. Vigna unguiculata, or the cow pea, is a drought-tolerant food crop that, unlike garden peas, is grown in warm, dry, sub-tropical regions of the world. Like garden peas, the cow pea is a legume and produces seeds in a pod. The seed pods of the cow pea are dissimilar in shape and color to garden peas; cow pea pods are longer and have a paler color.
Pigeon peas, Cajanus cajan, are a legume grown in wet, tropical areas of the world. Used as a food crop, pigeon peas bear little resemblance to their garden pea cousins. This pea type is a perennial that grows into neither the bush or vine type seen in most peas; pigeon peas grow into small trees at maturity.
Not all garden plants called peas are actual peas. The sweet pea plant, Lathyrus odoratus, is an annual flowering vine. Sweet pea vines are typically grown for their flowers, rather than their value as a crop. Like their edible namesakes, sweet pea flowers produce seed pods. Sweet peas, unlike their true pea counterparts, are potentially harmful if ingested.