What Are Pigeon Peas: Information For Growing Pigeon Pea Seeds

What Are Pigeon Peas: Information For Growing Pigeon Pea Seeds

By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Whether you grow the plant to eat or for other reasons, pigeon pea seed growing offers unique flavor and interest to the landscape. In suitable locations, there is very little care of pigeon peas involved and the plants are easy to grow.

What are Pigeon Peas?

Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan), also known as Congo or Gunga peas, are native to Asia and are grown in many warm and tropical regions throughout the world. This short-lived perennial plant can actually grow into a small shrubby tree and makes an excellent low hedge or windbreak.

Pigeon pea seeds contain a large amount of protein and three important amino acids: lysine, tryptophan, and methionine. In India, the peas are combined with lentils to make a popular soup. People in the Dominican Republic and Hawaii grow the seeds for canning. The taste of pigeon peas is nutty and grain-like.

About Pigeon Pea Seed Growing

Pigeon peas can be grown in most places where there is a lot of sun and very little frost. According to the USDA Plant Hardiness Map, pigeon peas can be grown in zones 9 through 15.

Plant seeds 1 inch (2.5 cm.) deep and 12 inches (31 cm.) apart for best results. Plants will germinate in 10 to 15 days and pods will appear in four months. Pods can be picked fresh for peas or left on the tree until they are dry.

Pigeon peas growing conditions don’t have to be perfect, as this adaptable plant does well in even the poorest soil and with only little water.

Multiple Uses for Pigeon Peas

The pigeon pea bush has many uses in the sustainable landscape. Some people use the shrub as a living hedge around fruit trees due to its ability to fix nitrogen.

The sparse canopy is also excellent if you want to provide shade for smaller plants but still allow light to get through.

The pods, leaves, and flowers make an excellent animal fodder.

If you have heavy soil, the deep taproot of the pigeon pea shrub can break up the soil and improve its overall quality.

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How Tall Can the Pigeon Pea Tree Grow?

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Most edible fresh or dried beans come from short herbaceous plants or medium to tall vines. Not so the pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan), which is a tall shrub that varies with height depending on the cultivar. Pigeon pea is widely grown in India, where it is one of the most common pulses, and Africa. It also grows in subtropical and tropical areas of the New World, especially Central America. Cultivated for more than 3,000 years, pigeon pea tolerates most soils and is drought-tolerant after establishment.

Plants→Cajanus→Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan)

Botanical names:
Cajanus cajan Accepted
Cajanus indicus Synonym

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit: Shrub
Life cycle: Perennial
Sun Requirements: Full Sun
Plant Height : 3 - 7 feet
Fruit: Edible to birds
Flower Color: Yellow
Bi-Color: Yellow streaked with purple or red
Bloom Size: 1"-2"
Flower Time: Summer
Late summer or early fall
Underground structures: Taproot
Uses: Windbreak or Hedge
Suitable as Annual
Suitable for forage
Edible Parts: Fruit
Wildlife Attractant: Bees
Propagation: Seeds: Provide light
Depth to plant seed: 1 - 2 inches
Sow in situ
Start indoors
Can handle transplanting

Cajanus cajan flower colors can vary greatly see this link:

Cajanus cajan, pigeonpeas/pigeon peas, can be grown as an annual, starting indoors where necessary to ensure a harvest before frost. The plants will not tolerate frost. In suitably warm climates they can be grown as a short-lived perennial living up to 5 years. The branches can be cut and used as mulch around other crops such as fruit trees.

Cut back the main stem to about four feet.
This will encourage side branching and will keep the plant at a more manageable height.
The pods will be easier to pick, and the plant will be easier to move indoors (if desired) when cold weather arrives.

I live in zone 9 Florida USA. My pigeon peas are doing very well. They sprout on their own if I broadcast the seeds. They can be transplanted or left where they have sprouted. They serve my garden in many ways: Food, (squirrels like them too). As climbing trellis for cucumbers and support for tomatoes. They provide semi-shade for some trees. They also amend the soil and nurture other plants. I discovered that the humming birds like to visit their flowers.

At this moment I have about 6 pigeon Pea shrubs. They are growing very slowly. In my area I am supposed to start them in December but I am doing an experiment to find out if they can get to maturity before cold weather arrives.

Plant of the Month: Pidgeon pea, a multipurpose tree for a small garden

The pigeon pea plant is commercially cultivated in many countries as a valuable food crop. (echocommunity.com/Via Diana Duff)

Some pigeon pea cultivars produce yellow flowers with red streaks before producing pods. (Kim and Forest Starr/via Diana Duff)

Pigeon pea seeds from tradewindsfruit.com – “Pigeon pea seeds are available and ready to plant from several online sources.”

Pigeon pea flowers are usually yellow and, depending on the cultivar, can have red petals or coloring as well. (en.wikimedia.org/via Diana Duff)

Pigeon pea harvest from thesurvivalgarden.com – “When harvesting pigeon peas, some may be green fresh peas and other pods may be dry containing dry beans.”

The lowly pigeon pea offers many benefits to akamai gardeners. Not only is it a drought-tolerant, small and attractive tree but it also offers an edible crop and fixes nitrogen. As the leaves of pigeon pea trees provide filtered shade for your garden, they are also collecting nitrogen from the air to sequester in your soil.

Though not widely grown in Hawaii today, pigeon peas have been cultivated in tropical areas for more than 3,000 years likely beginning in India. Since they have been identified in African archaeological sites dating back to 2,000 B.C., they are also possibly native to tropical and sub-tropical Africa. Many Europeans took pigeon pea plants home from Africa and it was through the slave trade in the seventeenth century that they made it to the American continent. They were reportedly introduced to Hawaii in 1824 and were widely planted here during World War I. Today, pigeon peas are grown commercially in many countries as a protein-rich food crop.

A member of the very large legume/bean or Fabaceae family, the pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) has countless relatives. Most of them are legumes with similar flowers, which produce pods containing beans or peas and have a high percentage of nitrogen in their leaves, stems and roots.

Pigeon peas are consumed as a protein source by both humans and livestock in many parts of the world. They can be shelled and eaten as fresh peas or harvested when the pods are dry and stored as dry beans for cooking and eating later. In parts of the Caribbean pigeon peas are known as gandules and in India, as dahl. They have even been growing in Hawaii long enough to have a Hawaiian name. They are known as pi nunu (pigeon pea) or pi Pokoliko (Puerto Rican pea).

These pea trees are often planted as hedges or as support for vines like vanilla and lilikoi. Parts of the trees are often chopped and used as green manure on farms as well as in gardens. Their strong tap room means they can help prevent and control erosion and, when grouped, they can provide a windbreak to protect more vulnerable plants.

Because of its numerous beneficial uses, the pigeon pea is often described as a permaculture plant. Many videos about this plant appear on YouTube. A short one describing the plant’s usefulness is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpd_7JNiWkM.

Though it starts slowly, the pidgin pea tree soon starts to grow quickly. In the first year, it can reach over 5 feet. Classified as a shrub or small tree, it rarely grows taller than 15 feet during its life. Pigeon peas are known as perennials, which means they continue to grow from year to year. In ideal conditions they may live up to eight years, but occasionally they have a shorter life span of four to five years. During their first year, they will produce flowers and beans. This makes it possible to replant from seed bi-annually to keep a constant supply of trees growing.

The small ovate leaves grow in triplicate on slender green branches and, if it is trimmed as a tree, the branches can offer shade below. Within the first year in the ground, pigeon pea plants will produce lovely yellow flowers streaked with red. They attract honey bees and carpenter bees as well as other pollinators. Numerous pods will appear once flowers are pollinated. These can be harvested early, before they dry, and shelled as fresh peas. If left to dry on the tree, the pods will contain peas that can serve as dried beans or as seeds for a new crop

Propagation from seeds is the preferred method and requires little effort. The hard, dry seeds need some scarification to encourage quick sprouting. Nicking them with a nail clipper or sanding a small section and soaking overnight in water can help. They will usually sprout in one or two weeks in a moist (not wet) medium.

Once the true leaves appear on the seedlings you can plant them in deep pots or tree tubes and fertilize lightly to get them strong. Be sure not to wait too long to plant out, as you don’t want to abort the tap root development.

To plant them, choose a sunny spot in soil that drains well. Select a planting spot where the tap root will have room to grow. Water the new plant until it gets going. Pigeon peas are hardy plants that can tolerate many different soil types and growing conditions. Their deep root system means they can tolerate drought, so you can cut back on water once they are established.

When the plant begins to develop branches, you can either trim off lower ones to encourage a tree like growth habit or use a reduction cut (also called a drop crotch cut) on the top to keep it small and shrub-like. The trimmings make excellent mulch for your garden.

Beyond occasional optional pruning to control size and shape, pigeon peas need very little care. They are not prone to disease or insect attacks. If either occurs, treat with organic products if you plan to eat the peas, feed them to livestock or chickens or will be using the trimmings for mulch on edible plants. You can fertilize lightly to encourage growth but since they acquire nitrogen from the air, heavy fertilizing is not needed or desired.

For the many reasons enumerated here, pigeon pea trees are definitely a worth considering for your garden. Though they appear in various spots around the island and are cultivated on some farms, the seeds may be hard to find. Several online sources are available if you can’t find local seeds. Try this plant and don’t forget to donate some of your dry seeds to the Community Seed Library in the Public Library in Kailua-Kona.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.

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Does anyone know where I can buy seeds for black pigeon peas? My mother would love to plant some. anon303187 November 13, 2012

In lancashire, (UK) pigeon peas or parched peas are a classic dish. they are eaten on their own with salt and pepper or with a hotpot, red cabbage. Just soak them and boil in a little chicken stock. Brilliant. anon279695 July 13, 2012

Where can I get a couple/few pigeon pea seeds? --Sandi anon275024 June 15, 2012

Unlocking the pigeon pea genome is seen as a major advancement in genetically modified crops, and is discussed online. anon253802 March 10, 2012

Does anyone know where I can buy dried, black pigeon peas? anon152235 February 13, 2011

i live in the florida panhandle. My mom gave me some seeds and i planted several of them. They grew quickly and were quite attractive! I waited until the pods were dried out and shelled them and placed them in glass jars for use later. How easy is that? They come back after frost or else they "self seed". Easy to grow! anon144081 January 18, 2011

I just threw some in from a can into my cooked rice and are heating them through. anon139713 January 5, 2011

Where can we buy pigeon peas? anon128172 November 18, 2010

I live in southwest Florida and was given a pigeon pea plant cutting. It sat in a pot for several months and I finally planted it. Now, it is well over 12 feet tall, much bigger than the mother plant and I am experiencing its first crop. It's loaded with pea pods and I have no idea when to harvest them but will figure it out.

It's a pretty mini tree and will take a baby and plant it where it can truly grow to its heart's content! Looking forward to eating them! anon83332 May 10, 2010

Several years ago the local grocery was discounting some food that was not selling and so I bought four pounds of pigeon peas.

Two months ago I had a bad concussion with some minor brain injury and I continue with the symptoms. Poking around the cupboard today I found the peas and read in your article that they can quell swelling of the internal organs! Life has its own way. Maybe this is just what "the doctor" had in mind. anon72120 March 21, 2010

I looked up pigeon peas because I am going to a wedding in Anguilla soon and on one of the activities planned they will be serving pigeon peas and rice. We grow purple hull and also zipper cream peas here in Texas. It will be interesting to see how they taste. anon62950 20 hours ago

i got a bag of pigeon peas given to me and just cooked them up with some hot italian sausage and chili spices and it was awesome. anon54400 7 hours ago

I am happy to read about pigeon peas because i have been wanting to know where it can grow. Kindly post something on its nutritional value to help us know exactly what we are getting from this precious pea. Thank you. anon26059 February 7, 2009

I just want to say thanks. I have been trying to find some better information on pigeon peas so I can get the right ones for a Puerto Rican dish. The other places I saw didn't give me enough info to realize I needed whole pigeon peas, not the toor dal I use for Indian dishes.

Growing Pigeon Pea

Pigeon peas will grow just about anywhere. They can cope with poor soils and little water. Of course they will grow faster, bigger, better, and live longer if they have plenty of water and nutrients.

Most varieties are not frost tolerant, although there are some newer varieties that supposedly can handle a bit of frost. If you get freezing winters you can grow them as an annual crop. That's not ideal from a permaculture point of view, but it's still a great food crop and soil improver.

You grow pigeon peas from seed. There are many varieties of pigeon pea around the world, from tall tree like species to smaller bushes and dwarf varieties. The different varieties also mature at different times. If you live in a cool climate grab a faster maturing species.

If you want to take advantage of the plant's ability to fix nitrogen then you may have to inoculate the seeds. It depends where you live. (See Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria.)

Pigeon Pea is not very specific. For inoculation you can use any rhizobium of the cowpea group. I used a rhizobium that I had purchased for my Dolichos lablab seeds and it worked. (I later found out that it was indeed a cowpea rhizobium.)

Planting depth is whatever. Just stick them in the ground, they'll grow. The seeds take about two to three weeks to germinate. Germination is faster in warm soils and takes longer in cooler climates.

Initially the plants grows very slowly. For about three months it will look like nothing much is happening, but then they take off.

Flowering and Harvest. Plants can start flowering in as little as two months and you could theoretically harvest the first seeds after three to four months. However, depending on the variety and the planting time it can take a lot longer, up to eight months.

The plants are day length sensitive and will flower sooner when the days are short.

Pick the pods green if you want fresh peas or leave them on the plant to dry. Pigeon peas are very heavy croppers and the seed pods grow in big clusters at the end of the branches. It's easy to gather a good amount for a meal.

You can prune your plants at any time if you want to use them as mulch. If you need all the peas then the best time is obviously after the harvest. However, my most vigorous bushes get a good cut every few months and they just keep growing back bigger and stronger.


To grow pigeon pea as a home garden crop, choose a short-maturation variety. Plant seeds as soon as frost danger is past at about twice the depth of the seed's diameter. Keep the soil moist and seeds should germinate in two to three weeks, faster in warm soils than in cool ones. For the first three months after germination, growth is slow, but then becomes fast. Plants can start to bloom after two months, but can take longer depending on the cultivar. Pigeon pea is a short-day plant, blooming when nights are long, except for day-neutral varieties such as "Amarillo," which will bloom regardless of day length. Harvest young pods for eating pigeon peas fresh, but let them mature for dried peas.

Watch the video: Pigeon pea -Redgram cultivation