Lathyrus is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family Fabaceae, comprising 160 species. It is native to the temperate regions of the world, with a breakdown of 52 species in Europe, 30 species in North America, 78 in Asia, 24 in tropical East Africa, and 24 in temperate South America. Lathyrus is commonly known as sweet pea and vetchling.
There are annual or perennial species which may be climbing or bushy. The genus includes the annual Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus) and the perennial Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius). The flowers are fragrant which make Lathyrus a popular garden plant. The flowers come in beautiful color like rose, red, maroon, pink, yellow, white, purple or blue and even some are bicolored. There are dozens of cultivars, some better scented than others.
Lathyrus sativus (Grass Pea, Blue Sweet Pea, Chickling Vetch, Indian Pea, Indian Vetch, White Vetch) is commonly grown for human consumption and livestock feed in Asia and East Africa. It is an important crop in drought and famine prone areas. It is also a 'guaranteed crop' as it can produce reliable yields when all other crops fail.
Lathyrus tuberosus (Tuberous Pea, Earthnut Pea, Aardaker) is grown as a root vegetable for its edible tuber. The sweet, starchy tubers are edible cooked or raw. Due to low productivity, it is seldom grown even though it is palatable and nutricious.
Larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) species such as Grey chi, Latticed Heath and Meadow Vetchling feed on Lathyrus species.
Plant Lathyrus in full sun, in fertile and well-drained soil. Propagation is by seed in spring, or division in early spring. Cultivars are susceptible to fungal infection including downy and powdery mildew. Other pests and diseases are aphids, slugs, snails and wilt.