Please Pass the Peas! 

Nature Detectives logo with a hand-drawn illustration of a pea pod.

What’s a Pea?

Everyone knows that! It’s a round green thing you stab with a fork or balance on a spoon and eat. But did you know that a pea is also a bean? What?

Pink flowers

It’s All in the Name

Peas and beans are actually like first cousins in the same family. Their family name is “Legumes.” When we say “The Legume Family” we are talking about peas or beans or both.

Where Do Beans and Peas Grow?

Did you know that peas and beans grow naturally in the wild as well as in our farm fields? The Pea/Bean Family – The Legume Family –  is one of the biggest plant families on earth! It’s found on every continent except Antarctica.

It includes tiny plants in alpine areas to gigantic trees in the tropics. We have plenty of wild ones in Boulder County, too.

How Can You Tell It’s a Member of the Pea/Bean Family?

Hand drawn illustration of Golden Banner

Whether you are on a farm or in the forest, you can tell a member of the Legume Family by its beautiful flower, which looks like butterfly wings. And yes, peas are usually round and green and beans are usually oblong (but not always). Beans come in wider range of colors and patterns than peas. There are other differences, too, but here we will focus on their similarities as members of the same family. The part we eat is the plant’s fruit! The fruit we harvest – the bean or pea – is actually next year’s seed! When we plant it, we call it the seed.

True Story

A shopper in a store selling bulk beans and peas once brought a pound of beans and a pound of peas to the checkout counter and asked the clerk, “Where do you have bean and pea seeds? I want to plant some.” What do you think the clerk said? (“You just bought them!”)

Illustration of six different pea pods.

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