Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Cow Pea, Cowpea, Southern Pea
Vigna unguiculata 'Whippoorwill'

Family: Papilionaceae (pa-pil-ee-uh-NAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Vigna (VIG-nuh) (Info)
Species: unguiculata (un-gwee-kew-LAH-tuh) (Info)
Cultivar: Whippoorwill

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9 members have or want this plant for trade.


24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

6-9 in. (15-22 cm)

Seed Type:
Open Pollinated

Growth Habit:

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Unknown - Tell us

Days to Maturity:
61 to 70 days

Bloom Color:

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Propagation Methods:
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

Click thumbnail
to view:

By melody
Thumbnail #1 of Vigna unguiculata by melody

By dave
Thumbnail #2 of Vigna unguiculata by dave


5 positives
No neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive BonAirGardener On Jun 18, 2006, BonAirGardener from Richmond, VA wrote:

Around 5 years ago I collected +/-100 of these peas while helping my grandma (Ann Greene) pick them in Dickson, TN (45 min west of Nashville). Since then they've been stored in a ziplock bag in my room. A week ago I included two rows of these in my first gardening attempt. I gave my grandma a call and she advised to sow whippoorwill peas on "the poorest soil you've got, or they'll go all to vines." I also called her later to ask what pests I should keep an eye out for, and she had no advice on that, but noted that no one grew whippoorwills anymore - they've all switched to purple-hulled - and she had to special order them "yearrrrrs" ago.

The planted peas sprouted within 2 days. After 2 weeks in morning and evening sun with no additional fertilization (manure and compost were tilled into the plot before planting) the plants are 4-8 inches tall, some plants have put up a second "tier" of stalk and leaves. Larger plants have no pest activity, but smaller plants on each end of the rows have had their leaves preyed upon (still trying to figure out by what).

Positive Farmerdill On Nov 25, 2003, Farmerdill from Augusta, GA (Zone 8a) wrote:

The whippoorwill is an ancient cultivar of the southern pea(Vigna). It was once grown extensively for a hay crop much as northerners grew Canada field peas (Pisum). It could also be threshed out for dry peas. They are tiny compared to more modern cultivars like the many cultivars of Blackeye peas. In fact for table use, especially as green shell peas, blackeyes, purple hulls, and crowders are so much easy to shell and prepare. Whippoorwills are still available commeercially and are planted either for nostalgia in my case or as a summer green manure crop.

Positive dave On Nov 24, 2003, dave wrote:

This is about the only bean I've been able to grow here in the Hill Country of Texas, where we have very alkaline soil and hot summers. The other beans wither away but these cowpeas just grow and grow and grow!

I'm growing the same seed from Melody.

Positive Brook On Aug 9, 2002, Brook from Richmond, KY (Zone 6b) wrote:

I got seed from Melody, so it's the same line.

There are two versions of Whippoorwill, an older---grown previous to the War Between the States---and a younger---grown since then.

According to William Woys Weaver (to whom I sent some for identification), these are the older version, lending credence to the contention that they were grown by that family since the 1820.

Positive melody On Sep 27, 2001, melody from Benton, KY (Zone 7a) wrote:

These cowpeas,or 'stock peas' have been grown by the same West Kentucky family since the mid 1800's. There have been no aditions of commercial sources in all of this time.

I got them from Dana Adair Mullins,born 1945
She got them from her Great Aunt, Evelyn Adair Rodgers,born 1909
She got them from her Mother, Bertie Nall Adair born 1890
And she got them from her Mother(Dana's great Grandmother)Pemealier Nall, born1862

These seeds were probably brought to west Kentucky by their ancestors who settled Graves County in the 1820's.
There is evidence to suggest that this happened,but we have no written proof of it past Mrs.Nall.
Cowpeas were a Southern 'field crop' and were snubbed by the landed gentry of the Eastern Seabord.The peas were considered fit only for stock(animals and slaves)What they didn't know was that these vegetables were high in food value and were wonderful nutritious food for everyone.The Southern settlers knew this and ate them with much gusto.

The cowpea ,despite it's humble history is seen throughout the country now on nearly all tables.
These are a true heirloom in every sense of the word and we should be respectful of their heritage.The cowpea entered the Americas through the West Indies as a by product of the dark era in which slavery flourished.Originally from North West Africa,it came along on the ships that brought the slaves westward.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Apple Valley, California
Benton, Kentucky
Maben, Mississippi
Waynesboro, Mississippi
Lenoir City, Tennessee
Kerrville, Texas
Richmond, Virginia

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