Clitoria Ternatea (klih-TOH-ree-uh, tern-AH-tee-uh), commonly called butterfly pea, is a flowering plant species and belongs to the Fabaceae family along with the Blue Indigo plant and Dwarf Poinciana.
The herbaceous plant is native to tropical Asia including regions in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Thailand).
Today, the butterfly pea is widely distributed in the United States, Australia, and Africa.
The genus name “Clitoria” stems from “clitoris” – a female sex organ.
The flowering species was named this because of the resemblance it shares with a clitoris.
The other half of the name “ternatea” refers to the Moluccan Island of Ternate from where this plant was extracted first.
Owing to the plant’s distinctive appearance and features, it has gathered a few common names as follows:
- Asian pigeonwings
- Blue pea
- Cordofan pea
- Darwin pea
Clitoria Ternatea Care
Size and Growth
Butterfly peas are evergreen perennial plants, reaching a height of 6’ – 10’ feet and a spread of 2’ – 3’ feet.
At maturity, these plants feature deciduous and elliptic leaves (1” – 2” inches long) on climbing stems of 1’ – 9’ feet long.
The plant is best adaptable to locations exposed to annual summer rainfall of approximately 12” inches.
Flowering and Fragrance
Butterfly pea flowers are large showy purple flowers of 1” to 3” inches long.
The hibiscus usually blooms in early spring, early/late summer, or early fall in various flower colors including mauve, white, and deep blue.
The structure of the clitoria ternatea flowers consists of a prominent banner, wing, and keel, presenting a resemblance with a butterfly.
These vivid blue flowers bloom in the morning in an upside-down position and carry no scent or flavor.
As a member of the pea family, the Darwin pea flower self-fertilizes and never fully forms.
Light and Temperature
Clitoria ternatea enjoys full sun for vital growth.
However, this easy-to-grow plant thrives in low light conditions including partial shade.
It also tolerates cool and moist climatic conditions to some extent.
The flowering pea performs better in locations with an average temperature of 66° to 82° degrees Fahrenheit (19° – 28° C) and bears temperatures as minimum as 59° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C).
The plant is hardy to USDA zones from 9 – 10.
Watering and Feeding
Butterfly peas prefer regular watering in the first growing season to absorb nutrients in the soil.
The spurred variety is drought-tolerant but once it matures, it requires small but additional amounts of irrigation, especially in hot and dry weather conditions.
The flowering specimen requires no fertilizers.
However, nourish the plant once or twice a year with a water-soluble fertilizer, preferably an organic fertilizer.
Soil and Transplanting
- Clitoria ternatea prefers rich, sandy soil with a pH value from 6.6 to 7.5.
- For best results, ensure the soil is well-drained and consists of compost and organic matter.
- Consider transplanting when the plant has reached the height of a minimum of 6” inches.
- Dig deep and wide, to easily remove the root system.
- Shake off excess soil and unwanted components from it.
- Dig a new hole, twice the size of the current root system.
- Transfer the butterfly pea into a new hole, making sure to mix in plenty of compost and native soil.
- Water the plant thoroughly until the root establishes completely.
Grooming and Maintenance
Avoid overwatering to maintain the plant in its best condition.
Frequently prune to prevent it from turning leggy or bushy.
The pruning entails eliminating dead, damaged, or diseased components from the plant in any season.
When planting, choose any type of soil as long as it is well-drained and place the plant where it receives maximum sunlight.
How to Propagate Butterfly Pea Flower
Clitoria ternatea propagates from seeds and cuttings.
In the former technique, sow pea seeds in a pot or a container in early spring in well-drained soil.
Another option is to sow the seeds indoors before the last winter.
Make sure to soak the seeds in water for 3 to 4 hours in advance.
Seeds usually germinate in a week or two, till then keep the soil moist.
In the cutting method, take the cuttings and root them in the vermiculite or moist sand.
Butterfly Pea Flower Pests and Diseases
Clitoria ternatea L (Linn) suffers from attacks by aphids and spider mites that feed on the perennial shrub. Apply neem oil to get rid of the aphids and spider mites.
However, overwatering or under-watering often cause pests such as caterpillars and grasshoppers to attack the blue pea.
Clitoria Ternatea Uses
It’s often used as a cover crop, a ground cover or to climb up a pergola.
Butterfly pea is a traditional ayurvedic medicine and is used as a nootropic, memory enhancer, anti-diabetic, anti-asthmatic, laxative, diuretic, anticonvulsant, anti-pyretic, and anti-stress agent.
One study shows root extract treatment of Clitoria ternatea during the growth spurt period enhances learning and memory in rats.
In Ayurveda, the medicinal plant, which contains valuable triterpenoids, cyclotides, and anthocyanins, is soaked into hot water to make a striking blue tea.
This vibrant tea helps treat a wide range of ailments and promote nutrients such as flavonol, glycosides, antioxidants, peptides, and amylase.
Ternatea extracts are also in many beauty products to enhance the quality of skin and hair.