I recently discovered a patch of Hairy-Pod Cowpea growing near My Florida Backyard. The cowpea is technically just outside our boundary, growing under a stand of pine trees along the lake, but you can certainly see it from My Florida Backyard, so I think it counts.
Anyway, I was pleased to find this native Florida wildflower here for a variety of reasons. First, it has a delightfully descriptive name. The pods are indeed hairy, as you can see below, and the seeds that grow inside the pods are a type of pea. This plant is in fact a member of the pea family, which includes the more familiar soybeans and chickpeas, among many others.
Hairy-Pod Cowpea is a vine, and will climb up trees and other objects in the wild, or be trained over a trellis in cultivation. The yellow flowers are intriguingly lovely, another reason to enjoy this Florida native.
But perhaps the best reason of all, the reason that certainly excited me the most, is that the hairy-pod cowpea serves as a host plant for several species of butterfly, including the Long-Tailed Skipper, a frequent visitor to My Florida Backyard. These caterpillars are leaf-rollers, like the canna skipper, so finding one is a little like opening a very strange birthday gift.
When they're very small, the caterpillars cut portions of the leaves to roll over themselves. As they grow larger, they "stitch" the leaves of the cowpea together to make a shelter big enough to hold them safely. This caterpillar was cozied up inside two cowpea leaves held together with strands of silk.
Because this patch of cowpea is outside the boundaries of My Florida Backyard, in an area technically owned by the HOA, there's always the chance that the maintenance crew could mow or spray the area. Fortunately, our neighborhood is participating in the Hillsborough County Adopt-A-Pond program, so I'm going to post some "Restoration Project: Do Not Mow" signs in the area and hope for the best!