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Thermopsis villosa (Carolina bushpea)
Cressler, Alan

Thermopsis villosa

Thermopsis villosa (Walter) Fernald & B.G. Schub.

Carolina Bushpea, Aaron's Rod, Bush Pea

Fabaceae (Pea Family)

Synonym(s): Thermopsis caroliniana


USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

A 3-5 ft. perennial, unbranched or with a few, short, vegetative branches. Dense, terminal racemes, up to a foot long, bear many deep yellow flowers followed by hairy pods. The dark green leaves are trifoliate.

A striking legume with large, lupine-like flower spikes rising up to 5 feet in late spring through early summer, Carolina Bushpea is native only to forest openings in the Appalachians, but it is adaptable to rich garden soils throughout the eastern United States. It needs water during droughty summers.


From the Image Gallery

13 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Trifoliate
Inflorescence: Raceme
Fruit Type: Legume
Size Notes: Up to about 5 feet tall.
Flower: Flower spikes 4 to 18 inches long.
Fruit: 1 to 2 inches

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Yellow
Bloom Time: May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Yellow to pale cream in color.


USA: AL , CT , GA , MA , ME , NC , NH , NJ , NY , PA , TN , VA , VT , WV
Native Distribution: Mountains of GA, AL, TN, NC, & WV: the southern Appalachians. note: Discrepancy between sources about range of the plant, with some saying it occurs only in the southern Appalachians and others extending the range much farther north.
Native Habitat: Forest openings; mountain clearings

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Drought Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Humus-rich, well-drained soil.
Conditions Comments: Water in the summer.


Use Ornamental: An excellent flower for tall, late spring color.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes


Propagation Material: Root Division , Seeds
Description: Seeds can be sown outdoors upon collection or stored, treated and sown later. Mature plants may be divided in the fall but new divisions recover slowly. The problem is the deep roots which are broken when moved. Roots are so thick that it may take a hatchet to divide them.
Seed Collection: The mature, brownish legume pod begins to split 5-6 weeks after the bloom period. Collect the pods and let them air-dry a few days before removing seeds. Store in sealed, refrigerated containers.
Seed Treatment: Germination of stored seed is more uniform if the seeds are presoaked in boiling water and allowed to cool in the water for at least twelve hours before planting. Can take up to 3 years to establish itself.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Keep other plants cleared away from it. It doesn't do well when crowded.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Thermopsis villosa in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Thermopsis villosa in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Thermopsis villosa


Record Modified: 2014-10-17
Research By: TWC Staff

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