Barely six inches tall, sensitive pea plants are easy to miss. They are noticeable along the creek because of their numbers.
When I first saw these tiny plants, I kept waiting for them to get bigger and bloom. One day I stooped down to find they were blooming.
Sensitive pea flowers have the typical bean and pea shape. There is the tall petal behind, the flat petals reaching out and the two curled around in the center. These yellow flowers are barely half an inch tall.
Sensitive peas are small versions of the partridge peas now blooming along the highways. Partridge peas have strong stalks up to two feet tall lined with bright yellow pea flowers often with a red center. Both are legumes. Both are native wildflowers.
The leaves are a central stalk with rows of long, elliptical leaflets. The name sensitive is from these leaves. If you touch the leaflets, they fold up along the stem.
A number of plants have these fold up leaves. The one commonly seen in garden catalogs is the sensitive briar with its pink pom pom flowers.
This is a small version of the mimosa tree which has fold up leaves too. It grows along the road on top of the hill where the ground is drier. Mimosa trees are not native, but have adapted to the area and grow wild now, mostly along highways.
In more tropical areas the jacaranda tree is much like the mimosa, but has long strings of blue flowers. Its leaves fold up too.
Pollinated flowers become pods of seeds. Those of partridge peas are popular with larger birds like quail. The smaller seeds of sensitive pea disappear down other bird gullets.
For now the small, yellow flowers peek out from under the fans of leaves. But you have to get down to ground level to really see and admire them.
Find out more about these little plants and sensitive brier in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”