White Pea Flowers

The family Fabaceae is one of our larger plant families, containing the peas, beans, vetches, clovers and other, closely-related groups. The family is readily distinguished by its unique flower shape, well-known to anyone who has grown peas or beans as vegetables or enjoyed the fragrant flowers of Sweet Peas. There are many woody members of the family, too, such as Wisteria, Black Locust, Laburnum, Gorse and Broom. The flowers have five petals, but they are of unequal size and shape and form what is known as a zygomorphic flower. This is a flower that is symmetrical through just one plane (and therefore appears to have a 'right way up'), rather than an actinomorphic flower which is symmetrical through many planes - such as daisies, buttercups and many other flowers. The uppermost petal of a pea flower is usually the largest and often referred to as the 'standard'. The flower then has two, smaller petals either side of the standard, which are known as the 'wings'. Below the wings are two petals that are fused together to form a boat-shaped structure whch is known as the 'keel'. The keel is often hidden beneath the wings and may not always be obvious without investigation.

The structure of pea flowers varies little - although some tend to be broad-petalled, very showy flowers that are carried singly or in elongate spikes while others are small, narrow and almost tubular in appearance. In the latter case, the flowers are often carried in larger quantity and clustered into a head (e.g. clovers). Because the flower structure varies little, identification from this page on is based mainly on leaf detail (pinnate, trifoliate etc.) and growth type (creeping, woody-stemmed, etc.). As this is such a large group, this page will help narrow your search, once you have arrived here from the flower colour pages.

The main purpose of this page is to attempt to break this family up into bite-sized chunks, so that the pages you are led to do not get too big by containing a large number of species. At worst, if you follow a link from here and do not see your plant, return to this page and try another link. Note that some species may come in a variety of flower colours; in such cases, the species is shown on more than one page, so you should still find it.

At this stage, be sure to read the texts below carefully, as they contain identification information that may not be visible in the photographs; clicking to the next stage will help you get to the exact species.

Use the photos below to narrow your search to a group, then click on the picture to go to the next stage.

Woody Peas & Beans Woody Peas & Beans
Multistemmed trees, bushes or subshrubs, varying greatly in height from six metre high trees to woody subshrubs no more than 60cm in height - but all with perennial, woody stems at least at the base. Flowers may be solitary or in tight clusters, but all with the typical pea flower shape. Be sure to also check Common Broom, which may also have white flowers.
Peas & Beans Peas & Beans
A wide range of climbing or free-standing plants, variable in height with some species forming low, creeping mats. All with white pea flowers which are carried singly or in loose, open clusters. All plants have trifoliate leaves (each leaf consists of three leaflets), although some smaller-leaved species may appear to have single leaflets. These plants are generally annuals, or are perennials that die back in winter and thus do not have a woody base (or at least not evident).
Clovers Clovers
Typically, low-growing plants that form small carpets or grow to no more than 60cm in height. Clovers are abundant in all kinds of grassy places; they have clustered heads of narrow, almost tubular, pea flowers that can appear throughout the summer. The leaves are trifoliate - each leaf having three leaflets - and these leaves have small side lobes at the base of their stalks called stipules, which are a feature of the family. In Dorycnium, these stipules are as big as the leaflets, giving the impression of a leaf with five leaflets.
White Vetches & Allies White Vetches & Allies
A variable bunch of plants, but all have leaves that are pinnate, with a series of broad or narrow side leaflets, arranged in pairs like a small ladder. Leaves may or may not have a tendril at the tip. The flowers are usually showy, but may be in a large, clustered, often upright spike, or may be solitary in the leaf axils.
White vetches with other leaves White vetches with other leaves
Small, low-growing plants to 30cm in height. This group contains a small number of oddball members of the pea family that do not have the usual pinnate or trifoliate leaves that are typical of the family. Leaves are often a single, simple blade, but they may also have a tendril. Conversely, they may have a tendril and no blade! If you have a pea plant with leaves that are anything other than pinnate or trifoliate, try this group.