As I wrote in an earlier post, my boys and I were at our family prairie last weekend. Only three flower species were blooming. One of those was ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus, aka buffalo pea), and I took several photos of the flowers as I walked around. This one was taken as the boys were waiting impatiently for me to get in the truck so we could get home for lunch. As it turned out, the photo turned out to be my favorite of the day, and the boys didn’t starve.
Besides being an attractive flower in the early spring, ground plum also produces large edible pods that taste like raw peas when they’re still green. Those pods grow to about an inch in diameter, and resemble plums – especially when they turn red later in the year.
I haven’t yet figured out why ground plum plants that flower in the spring don’t always produce pods. We had one seed harvest year (2001) in which we collected a 30 gallon barrel full of seed pods from one 60 acre prairie, but I have never seen that kind of production since. Most years, we do a lot of searching but find little seed – even where we know plants were blooming prolifically in the spring. I assume it’s a combination of weather, management, and herbivory pressure, but that doesn’t really narrow it down much!