Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea), a striking and versatile vine!

Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings)

Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings) with deep blue single flowerClitoria ternatea is another of the many captivating twining climbers that are popularly used for covering the fence or train on a trellis, arbor or archway.

A perennial vine that is free flowering all year round, with an abundance of attractive deep blue blossoms dotting its lovely spread of green foliage. They are such a delight to behold!

Striking royal blue flowers of Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings)We can still recall our fascination of its stunning royal blue flowers when we first saw it draped over the fence at one of the nearby residential homes almost a decade ago and how I sweet-talked my better-half into getting some seed pods from the house owner who was unknown to us. I’m truly a sucker for blue-flowered plants.

We planted the Butterfly Pea vine in a large pot and did enjoy its flowers for several months but had to remove it when it started to get straggly and unkempt! Ever since, we’ve never wanted another, knowing from past experiences that vines don’t fare well in pots, preferring the ground which we can’t provide. That brings to mind the saying, “A bad workman blames his tools”. Are we? :-)

Striking blue flowers of Clitoria ternatea #2/3Whatever, if you’re looking for an ornamental vine with gorgeous blue flowers, this free flowering plant is just perfect! And, if you love cooking, baking, etc., especially preparing nyonya desserts, such as the blue glutinous rice cakes, then this plant is a must to obtain the blue dye from its flowers. Truly a striking and versatile vine with varied uses!

Plant Profile, Culture and Propagation :

  • Botanical Name: Clitoria ternatea (syn: C. albiflora, C. bracteata, C. mearnsii, C. tanganicensis, C. zanzibarensis. More synonyms at the Plant List.)
  • Common Name: Solitary Clitoria ternatea flower (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings) in vivid royal blueButterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings, Bunga Telang/Biru in Malay.
  • Family name: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae). Also placed in Papilionaceae.
  • Etymology: The genus name, Clitoria, was derived from the Latin word, clitoris, that was coined from the ancient Greek word kleitoris, meaning little hill. Thus named as the Clitoria flowers somewhat resemble the clitoris, the female sexual organ.
  • Origin: Exact native range uncertain due to widespread cultivation worldwide. Probably indigenous to Paleotropics (tropical areas of Africa, Asia and Oceania {including Australia}).
  • Plant type: A herbaceous perennial vine.
  • Features: Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings), draped over a fenceClitoria ternatea, a species of the genus, Clitoria, is an evergreen tropical perennial that grows vigorously as a vine by twining with its slender stems (1-3 m long) on whatever support it comes into contact with or as a creeper on the ground.
    This herbaceous, leguminous climber produces compound leaves with 5-7 papery-thin leaflets that are broadly elliptic to almost ovate, 2.5-5 by 1.5-3.5 cm, with the terminal leaflet larger than the laterals.
    Deep blue flowers of Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings)Lovelier than the green foliage, of course, are its spectacular deep blue flowers that are clitoris-like in shape, 3-5.5 cm long by 2-4 cm wide, with a pale yellow or entirely white center, and either notched or rounded at the apex. Flowers are axillary, single or paired. Besides the typical royal blue colour, the striking flowers can be white, with some fabulous varieties bearing sky blue, blue-violet, bright purple and mauve flowers that even appear in double-petaled form, such as C. ternatea var. pleniflora (plena) and C. ternatea var. alba plena (view photos at TopTropicals).
    Flowering Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings) with young green seedpodsClitoria ternata blooms prolifically year round in warm, humid and sunny regions worldwide. Each flower will be followed by a flat, linear and green seedpod, 8-15 cm long, mucronate at the apex, that turns brown and dehiscent when matured, releasing 6-10 shiny, blackish brown, often mottled, oblong seeds that are viable for propagation.
  • Culture (Care): Clitoria ternata grows easily with minimum care.
    Light: Grows best in full sun (with some shade from the hot afternoon sun) or partial shade.
    Moisture: Medium water requirements. Though it is drought tolerant, do water regularly for best results.
    Soil: Moderately fertile and moist soil of any kind. Adapted to a wide range of soil conditions from sandy to heavy clays. Do not overwater. It does not tolerate prolonged waterlogging.
    Others: Pinching is encouraged to keep the vine that tends to be leggy, bushy. Feed once fortnightly with a balanced liquid fertilizer or once monthly with a granulated fertilizer. Generally, pest and disease free. However, watch out for leaf-eating caterpillars and grasshoppers.
    For subtropical and temperate regions: Hardiness: USDA Zone 10a-11. Can withstand cold down to -1.1°C (30°F), with low frost tolerance. It has been known to regrow from stems after light frost or resprout from the roots after heavy frost. In colder regions, best to grow this fast-growing beauty as an annual and collect seeds to plant again the next growing season. Sow seeds directly in the garden in early spring, in moist warm soil or sow the seeds indoors before the last frost.
  • Propagation: By seeds or cuttings that root readily. Scarify the seeds or soak them in water 3-4 hours before sowing. Seeds germinate within 1-2 weeks, with flowers as early as 4 weeks after planting.
  • Usage: Luxuriant Clitoria ternatea vine, draped over a fenceThe versatile Clitoria ternatea plant has multiple uses. Attractive as an ornamental climber for fences, trellises, arbors and archways in gardens. It can also be used for hanging basket culture or as a specimen container plant with a support to decorate patios and decks. Its vigorous growth and ability to increase soil fertility and thus improve soil quality makes it most suitable as green manure or a cover crop. Ideal plant as fodder, pasture or hay for livestock or as revegetation species in coal mines in Australia.
    Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea, Blue Pea Vine, Asian Pigeonwings): side-view of its blue flowerIts blue flower extracts are used as natural colorant for food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products as it is non-toxic and has antidotal and antioxidant properties. In Southeast Asia, its vivid deep blue flowers are used as a natural blue dye to colour food. In Malaysia, its sun-dried blue flowers are used to provide a blue tinge to rice (known as Nasi Kerabu, a specialty in Kelantan and Terengganu) and glutinous rice cakes (known as Pulut Tai Tai, Nonya Chang and Pulut Inti in Nyonya cooking). In Thailand, the flowers are used to make a popular syrupy blue drink, in Burma as food where they are batter-fried, and in Kerala and Philippines, eaten as vegetables. Tender pods are edible too.
    The roots, leaves, flowers and seeds of Clitoria ternatea have traditional medicinal uses, especially the roots in Ayurveda Indian medicine. It is known to be used to cure sexual ailments and induce abortion, as an aphrodisiac, laxative and diuretic, as a brain tonic to promote intellect and memory, and to treat bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary tuberculosis, fever, skin diseases like leucoderma, eye infections, ulcers, etc.
    Read more about Clitoria ternatea’s active properties and multiple uses at Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants and Global Information Hub on Integrated Medicine.

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Last edit: June 9, 2016

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7 Responses to “Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly Pea), a striking and versatile vine!”

  1. james Says:

    I admire the flowers – but compared to other vines, Im a little cautious of this one as it tend to look very messy and leggy.
    The worst is that it will eventually die & dry up leaving a skeleton frame on the fence or on the trailing place.
    They don’t last longer than a year.

  2. Jacqueline Says:

    Hehe James, you’ve painted the picture of our Butterfly Pea Vine so well… that was how our potted plant looked like many moons ago that made us part company.
    Potted plants probably don’t last long but you’d be surprised to know that these vines when grown on the ground can thrive very well indeed for several years. See the couple of photos above with its luxuriant growth over the fence – well, according to the owner, she had planted them since 2008, on the patch of soil outside the fence, above the drain.

  3. Autumn Belle Says:

    I planted mine beside my lipstick palm tree for support. Guess what? It grew taller and taller up to the top of the palm tree, like Jack’s beanstalk. As it was getting out of control, I had to cut down the plant. As I know, leguminous plants help to enrich the soil. If you crush some petals in a glass of water, you’ll get a blue solution. Add a few drops of lime juice and it turns purple, like magic. I experimented with this using raw petals and lukewarm water. I also drank the purple solution. No problem. It seems this is a popular drink in Thailand.

  4. Jacqueline Says:

    Hi A.Belle,
    With your tlc, I can just imagine how beautiful your plant is, draped over the palm tree. Thanks for bringing up the matter about its flowers being used to produce a popular drink in Thailand… I remember reading about it at Wikipedia but forgotten to add it in our article above. :)

  5. Robin Ng Says:

    Hi All, I’m from Malacca, used to love those Nyonya cakes when I was young, but now I’m in Sabah.There are no Nyonya cakes here. I have planted a variety that has multiple petals. The blue colouring containing anthocyanin which is very good for health especially for arteries and vein but has very little taste. So I combined this blue anthocyanin with stevia which is proven to reduce high-blood pressure and diabetes and I have a beautiful sweet blue drink that is very healthy.

  6. Jacqueline Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Robin.

  7. Stefan Says:

    On BlueChai we’re selling these butterfly pea flowers to make delicious blue tea.
    Has anybody tried adding a little lemon juice to the drink? It turns the tea purple and tastes delicious!

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