University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial of the Month - April 1999

Lathyrus vernus ‘Rose Fairy’

(lath’ e-russ ver-nuss)

Common name: Perennial Sweet Pea, Spring Vetch

Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae), Pea

Height x width: 12-15" tall x 12-18" wide, bushy not vining

Growth rate: moderate

Foliage: leaves on sparsely-branched angular stems, with 2-3 pairs of leaflets per leaf, leaflets 1 ½-3" long, shiny light green; may die down later in season after flowering, or become yellowish and unattractive

Flowers: rosy red, ¾" long, 3-15 on short terminal or axillary racemes in early spring (April in northern New England), some may be hidden in foliage but they contrast well with foliage

Hardiness: zones 5 (4 with mulch or snow) to 7

Soil: most, well-drained, tolerates dry as it is deep-rooted, lime mixed into planting hole in acid soils may help

Light: sun preferred, part shade tolerant

Pests and problems: leaf diseases later in season

Landscape habit, uses: mid-front of borders (plant later bloomers in front to hide foliage in summer), containers, woodland edges

Other interest: excellent perennial for spring bloom before most others, especially in the north, underutilized; same genus as the annual sweet pea; species is native to Europe; genus name was the one used by the Greek Theoprastus meaning pea or pulse--the former from the fruit shape, the latter from the fact the seeds were used to stimulate or excite

Other culture: does not tolerate heat and humidity in south where it may be grown as an annual for spring bloom, or containers in spring

Propagation: division of rootstock after flowering, with at least one eye per division; soak seeds overnight in warm water prior to sowing; blooms one year from spring sowing

Sources: Sunny Border Nurseries, Kensington, CT (wholesale); check your local garden stores, and online catalogs as well

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