Butterfly Pea Vine Flower: How To Identify and Grow Types of Blue Pea 

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | May 2, 2024

Man carrying a potted butterfly pea vine flower into his home after learning how to grow butterfly pea vine, how to recognize types of butterfly pea vine flowers, and their benefits.

Widely considered an ornamental legume, the Butterfly Pea Vine is both beautiful and functional.

In fact, it’s a lovely addition to vertical gardens and other outdoor areas where you’d like to see beautiful blooms.

If you’re interested in growing a Butterfly Pea Vine (or any types of Pea Vine flowers), this guide can explain everything you need to know.

In fact, you may be surprised at the culinary uses and symbolism of this delicately gorgeous plant.

Butterfly Pea Vine

(Clitoria ternatea)

Butterfly Pea Vine image in an oval frame on green background.
  • Characteristics: A trailing or climbing vine with uniquely shaped flowers commonly used as a culinary ingredient
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Genus: Clitoria L.
  • Leaf: Elliptical shape, 3-6 in long
  • Seed: Flattened 2-inch pods with 6-10 peas
  • Blossoms: Typically blue, rounded shape, 1-3 inches wide
  • Native Habitat: Along open fields or prairie edges
  • Height: Up to 15 feet
  • Canopy: 3 to 6 feet
  • Type: Perennial
  • Native Growing Zone: 8 to 13

How To Identify Butterfly Pea Vine Parts

The Butterfly Pea Vine is similar to many members of the pea family with trailing vines and delicate and distinctive flowers. Pea pods are a definitive giveaway.

Newer growth is tender and green but as the vines age, they become firmer, almost woody, and turn a grayish green.

Identifying Butterfly Pea Leaves

Butterfly Pea leaves grow in groups of 2 or 3 opposite each other on the stems. They are deeply veined, oval in shape, and are a rich green color.

Butterfly Pea Vine identification graphics showing Butterfly Pea Vine seed, Butterfly Pea Vine flower, and Butterfly Pea Vine leaf in circle frames on green background with a blooming Butterfly Pea Vine flowers on the right.

The edges are smooth, wide at the base, and tapered at the end. They are 1 to 3 inches long and less than an inch wide.

The leaves are edible and can be used as a natural option for creating a light green dye.14 By secreting their extracts, the leaves can also be used as safe pesticides that will not harm pollinators.6

Identifying Butterfly Pea Flowers

Butterfly Pea flowers are delicate and showy, blooming daily as a single flower or sometimes in pairs. They are about two inches wide with a concave base petal that opens to reveal a smaller cluster of petals sitting at the top of the flower.

They resemble female genitalia, which is how they got their scientific name.

They are usually blue or purple with a white or creamy interior often marked with yellow details. Some varieties are pale pink or white with dark purple markings.

Sometimes the flowers that bloom later in summer are self-fertilized and will not fully form.

Flowers contain both male and female parts and are classified as self-pollinators. However, to produce seed pods, the flowers need bees to help with fertilization.

Unless pollinated by hand, plants grown inside will not produce pea pods.

Identifying Butterfly Pea Seeds

Butterfly Pea Vine flowers give way to flat seed pods that are 2 to 3 inches long. As a member of the legume family, each pod contains 6 to 10 seeds, or peas, that are edible when young and green.5

Mature or brown pods should not be eaten and can have negative side effects such as nausea or diarrhea.7

Different Types of the Butterfly Pea Plant

Within the Fabacaea family, there are 35 to 40 different varieties of Butterfly Pea Vines.2

Some are deciduous with hard woody stems while others are softer herbaceous types.

Graphic showing the different types of Butterfly Pea Plant which includes Asian Pigeonwings (Clitoria ternatea), Butterfly Pea (Clitoria mariana L), and Bluebellvine (Centrosema virginianum).

(Butterfly Pea (Clitoria mariana L): Fritzflohrreynolds18)

Some are climbing varieties, while others tend to sprawl along the ground as cover. They come in various colors ranging from brilliant blues and deep purples to pink or lavender-tinted types of white flowers.

Asian Pigeonwings (Clitoria ternatea)

The common ternatea is a larger deciduous variety of the Butterfly Pea plant; it can climb an average of 15 feet tall and almost 6 feet wide.

Sometimes it is referred to as the Darwin Pea, Asian pigeonwings, or the Cordofan Pea. It is native to Indonesia but can be found growing in other parts of Asia and Africa.

It has blue flowers that contain anthocyanins, phenolic pigments that are crushed and used to add a vibrant blue color to textiles and foods.1 The petals of the ternatea variety can also be used to brew a beautiful blue tea common in Ayurvedic recipes for its mood-stimulating properties.5

The Blue Sails variety is a highly sought-after type of the ternatea species. Its flowers are a deep, dark blue.

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria mariana L)

The Mariana variety is shorter than the common ternatea and grows to only 3 to 4 feet tall and about 2 or 3 feet wide.3 It is also called the Atlantic Pigeonwing.

The Mariana cultivar is the only variety native to North America, growing in the Eastern States, but has also been found growing in Puerto Rico.4

Its flowers tend to be lavender with a white center and dark purple markings in the interior of the bloom. Unlike the ternatea, the Mariana is a twisting vine that is a better option for ground coverage and is not commonly used for human consumption.12

Bluebellvine (Centrosema virginianum)

The Bluebellvine is an herbaceous variety, never obtaining the hardier stems of the ternatea and mariana types. It is also referred to as the Spurred Butterfly Pea.

It is used as a ground covering as well and by pinching off the tips, you can create a bushy-like appearance.

In the summer, the Bluebell will bloom pink, white, or lavender flowers. Unlike the erect flowers of the more common varieties, these flowers appear to grow upside down and are short-lived, dying out by the end of the day.13

The Bluebell is known to attract bees and different types of butterflies including Long-tailed Skippers and Northern Cloudywings.

Tips for Growing a Butterfly Pea Vine From a Seed, Cutting, or Seedling

To grow a Butterfly Pea from seed, most sources suggest using seeds that are at least 6 months or older.6 Start the germination process 6 to 10 weeks before the last expected frost date in your growing zone.

For best results, the seeds need to be scarred and soaked overnight in room-temperature water. Fill a small container with soil and push the soaked seeds an inch or so into the soil.

Placing a heat mat under the starter pot will improve germination. Make sure to keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet.

In about 2 to 3 weeks, the seeds will begin to sprout. Allow 3 to 4 more weeks for the seeds to develop a strong enough root system before transplanting outside.

Once outside air and soil temperatures remain above 60 degrees, you can transplant the seedlings directly into your garden.8 Place seedlings 6 to 8 inches apart in an area with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.

You have to water fairly regularly to meet the watering needs for Butterfly Pea Vine plants. Keep an eye on the soil and water when the top 2 inches are dry.

Once established, the plants can be fairly drought-tolerant.

To propagate a Butterfly Pea Vine from a cutting, select an unpruned, but hardy vine section that is roughly 3 to 5 inches long. Make sure the cutting has a bud at the end.8

Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end into a rooting hormone. Place the cutting in a small container filled with water.

After about 2 or 3 weeks, roots will begin to sprout. You can then transplant your cutting into the soil following the same procedures you would use for planting seedlings.

How To Create the Best Growing Conditions for Butterfly Pea Vine

When you are looking for tips for planting Butterfly Pea Vine plants, it’s best to know ahead of time your local growing zones for Butterfly Pea Vine, where to grow them, and when to plant Butterfly Pea Vine for the best yield.

Butterfly Pea Vines require 6 to 8 hours of direct morning sunlight with dappled afternoon shade. They can not grow in shady gardens, so be careful to avoid companion plants like trees and bulky shrubs that are tall or have wide canopies.

A closeup of a Butterfly Pea variety showing lavender-colored flowers hanging from the plant's vines.

(Image: Vengolis19)

These plants can tolerate a wide variety of soils but do well in fertile, but sandy soils.

If you are considering container gardening, choose pots that are 3 gallons or larger with enough drainage holes to prevent the plant from sitting in standing water, which can lead to disease and root rot.

Butterfly vines prefer warm humid temperatures that stay between 70 and 100 degrees.8 Fertilize with a phosphorous and potassium-rich blend twice a year, once during the initial spring planting and then again in the fall after you’ve pruned away any old or dead parts of the plant.

These plants can be susceptible and are easily killed by the herbicides commonly used in crop fields, so be sure to protect any plants from overspray.

Butterfly Pea Vine Growing Zone

By accessing the interactive USDA hardiness map, you can enter your zip code to determine your local growing zone.15 The Butterfly Pea Vine grows well in zones 9 through 11 which have subtropical-like temperatures.

In these southern regions, this plant can be grown as a perennial.2

In northern regions, the Butterfly Pea Vine is grown as an annual since it can not tolerate consistent temperatures below 50 degrees. It may be necessary to grow the plants in container gardens that can then be overwintered inside.

Butterfly Pea Vine Growth Rate

The Butterfly Pea Vine grows quickly with a deep tap root and an extensive root system. While maintenance is generally low, it can take over neighboring plants and in some areas has been considered invasive.7

In cooler temperatures, they do tend to grow a bit slower and flower production is less.

You can expect your Butterfly Pea Vine to provide ample ground coverage in 30 to 40 days and mature seed pods to develop within 3 to 4 months.6

To maintain control and encourage a bushier appearance, pinch off vine ends frequently. You can also install a trellis or plant the seedlings next to a fence to encourage vertical growth and thereby save space.

Choosing the Right Companion Plants For Growing Butterfly Pea Vine

Companion planting is a common practice used to create helpful and diverse ecosystems within the garden.

The pea vine is frequently used in projects where soil repair is needed, in areas where over-farming and grazing have been an issue. Because of its root system, it is vital in preventing soil run-off in areas that have been flooded.

Being a member of the legume family, the pea vine is often used in revegetation projects as a way to help correct nitrogen levels. It is helpful to plant it alongside heavy feeders in the garden such as pumpkins, tomatoes, and squash.9

In addition, marigolds have a strong smell that repels common pests of the Butterfly Pea Vine including aphids and whiteflies, and can act as natural pest control.

How To Stop Butterfly Pea Vine Disease and Pests

Butterfly Pea Vine disease prevention is an important step to preserving your pea pod harvest and prolonging the life of your plants. Maintain a clean garden by raking and removing fallen debris from plants.

Clear out plants that are overcrowded to provide adequate airflow and proper moisture retention.

Occasionally, whitefly and spider mite infestations can appear and damage crops.3

Whiteflies are small, triangular cousins to aphids and mealy bugs; they can be found on the underside of leaves. They suck the sap from the tender parts of the plant and secrete a sticky substance called honeydew that interferes with photosynthesis, thereby weakening the plant.

Spider mites are tiny red spiders that also suck sap from the plants. They are very hard to spot with the naked eye, so a magnifying glass is suggested.

If an infestation is occurring, you may notice small stippling yellow marks appearing on the leaves. The leaves will then turn yellow and fall off from lack of nutrients.

In addition, spider mites reside in colonies, so you may notice fine white webbing on your vines.

It may be difficult to get rid of whiteflies and spider mites, but if you catch them early, you might be able to treat the plants with insecticidal soaps and prevent them from taking over and destroying your crop.

However, by the time you notice the damage, particularly from spider mites, you may find it best to completely remove the plants and discard them in the trash. Be sure to remove any mulch covering and any fallen leaves and stems.

Spider mites travel on air currents, so it is vital to inspect neighboring plants as well.

Overwatering can lead to fungal infections such as anthracnose and bacterial soft rot, as well as attracting large caterpillar and grasshopper populations which can increase leading to devastated harvests.

To maintain proper water levels and prevent water from sitting on leaves and stems, water at ground level and just enough to saturate the soil. The water should soak into the ground and not pool around the base of the plant.

Symptoms of fungal infections vary depending on the type of fungus but generally keep an eye out for signs of wilting and discoloration on leaves and stems.

If you begin to notice any signs of infestations or disease, it is important to immediately remove and discard any infected plant parts and if necessary, treat them with a natural pesticide such as neem oil.

Is There Any Butterfly Pea Vine Symbolism?

Butterfly Pea Vines are said to represent divinity and transformation, and correspond with women’s health and fertility.10 In India, the plants are called Aparajita flowers and are connected to the Hindu goddess of the same name. The flowers are used to signify strength and energy.

Is Butterfly Pea Flower Poisonous?

All parts of the Butterfly Pea plant are considered non-toxic and have been used in many culinary dishes. In traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic practices, the pea plant is used in many teas and concoctions.

The flowers, although tasteless, are highly valued because of their color-changing capabilities. When combined with acidic lemon juices the blue extracts turn into a soft and lovely purple.

What Are the Different Uses of Butterfly Pea Vine?

The flowers are used to dye foods and natural fibers. Their antioxidant properties make them a vital ingredient in mood-relaxing teas that may help reduce stress and improve female libido.5

An image showing a cup of Butterfly Pea tea using dried Butterfly Pea flowers.

(Image: Lawrence Twistleton16)

They also are considered nootropics that may support mental clarity and improve brain function. The roots have nodules that support a bacteria that helps maintain proper nitrogen levels in soil.

All parts of the plant contain ultra-stable macrocyclic peptides which are used in pollinator-friendly insecticides.11

Considered a very low-maintenance plant, the Butterfly Pea Vine is a beginner-friendly plant with many benefits and uses that can greatly enhance a backyard garden or wildflower area.


1Butterfly Pea – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (2023, July 13). Gardening Solutions. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/butterfly-pea.html>

2Dyer, M. H. (n.d.). Butterfly Pea Plant Care – Growing Spurred Butterfly Pea Vines In The Garden. Gardening Know How. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/butterfly-pea/planting-butterfly-pea-flowers.htm>

3Clitoria mariana (Atlantic Pigeon Wings). (n.d.). Gardenia.net. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://www.gardenia.net/plant/clitoria-mariana>

4US Wildflower – Butterfly Pea, Atlantic pigeonwings – Clitoria mariana. (2008, December 31). U.S. Wildflowers. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://uswildflowers.com/detail.php>

5Clitoria ternatea. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clitoria_ternatea>

6Blue Butterfly Pea Vine: Clitoria ternatea. (n.d.). Southern Garden. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://southerngarden.net/plant-profiles/blue-butterfly-pea-vine/>

7Clitoria ternatea – Common name: Butterfly pea. (n.d.). IPlantz. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://www.iplantz.com/plant/445/clitoria-ternatea/>

8Gillette, B. (2023, March 28). How to Grow and Care For Butterfly Pea Plant. The Spruce. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://www.thespruce.com/butterfly-pea-plant-7368944>

9Jones, E. (n.d.). Butterfly Pea. excelatgardening.com. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://excelatgardening.com/home/seed-library/seed-catalog/butterfly-pea/>

10Blue Butterfly Pea Flower (Love, Sexuality, Road Opener, Spirituality, Protection, Success). (n.d.). The Divine Key. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://thedivinekey.com/products/blue-butterfly-pea-flower-love-sexuality-road-opener-spirituality-protection-success>

11Punja, Z. K., & Holmes, J. E. (2019, April 29). Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea), a Cyclotide-Bearing Plant With Applications in Agriculture and Medicine. Frontiers. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2019.00645/full>

12Benda, C. D. (n.d.). Butterfly Pea (Clitoria mariana L.). USDA Forest Service. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/clitoria_mariana.shtml>

13Centrosema virginianum (Blue Bell, Butterfly Pea, Spurred Butterfly Pea, Wild Blue Vine, Wild Pea) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. (n.d.). North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/centrosema-virginianum/>

14Butterfly Pea – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (2023, July 13). Gardening Solutions. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/butterfly-pea.html>

152023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Retrieved January 27, 2024, from <https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/>

16Blue Butterfly Pea Tea. Photo by Lawrence Twistleton. CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed. Cropped, Resized, and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 26, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue_Butterfly_Pea_Tea.jpg>

17Species Information Image: blue ternate flowers Photo by Lam Thuy. (2019, September 16) / Unsplash License. Cropped and remixed with text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved January 26, 2024, from <https://unsplash.com/photos/blue-ternate-flowers-wuhBQy4dEMc>

18Clitoria Mariana – Atlantic Pigeon Wings Photo by Fritzflohrreynolds. (2013, July 18) / CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. Cropped and remixed with image, text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 26, 2024, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clitoria_Mariana_-_Atlantic_Pigeon_Wings.jpg>

19Butterfly pea ( Centrosema pubescens)01569 Photo by Vengolis. (2020, November 14) /CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped and changed file format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 26, 2024, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Butterfly_pea_(_Centrosema_pubescens)01569.jpg>