Less imaginative sorts claim it actually derives from chorizo ("separate") and nemo (" a thread"), in relation to filaments on the plant, but I prefer the first option. Since the French botanist was described as austere, I like to think of him capering about on the sand, as even the most reserved of us gardeners might do were we to stumble upon a splendid new species!

Although the flowers on the most popular flame pea, Chorizema cordatum, are only about 1/2 inch across, they are certainly brilliantly colored -- in a mix of orange, maroon, and yellow. They also crowd themselves into racemes up to 5 inches long. Chorizema ilicifolium looks very similar, except that it has holly-like leaves instead of cordatum's more heart-shaped ones.

There are at least 25 species of chorizema, most of which were better known to the Victorians than they are to us. You can see the dwarf Chorizema nana in the thumbnail here, and Chorizema genistoides to your left above. In The British Florist or Lady's Journal of Horticulture of 1841, a Mr. P. N. Dan from Tooting Nursery listed 14 types with which he was familiar.

Darn tootin' -- I mean, Dan of Tooting -- also gave specific directions for growing the genus as houseplants, recommending wide and shallow pots filled with a mix of two parts peat, one part loam (for which you can substitute potting soil), one part sand, and a little composted manure. For the best results, a flame pea plant should be kept cool and somewhat dry during fall and winter to protect it from root rot, but will appreciate more warmth in the spring when it begins flowering.

flame pea

Those of you in USDA zones 9 to 11 can also grow it in the ground, preferably in a similar soil to that mentioned above and in partial shade, as too much bright sun is supposed to fade the flowers. If given plenty of ground over which its shallow roots can scramble, the flame pea will grow from 3 to 5 feet tall and the same width. Though it can theoretically flower from March to October, it will probably do its most heavy blooming in the spring, but may treat you to an encore performance in the fall. After the plant flowers, you should cut it back by at least a third to prevent it from becoming too leggy.

If you wish to start your own seeds, pour boiling water over those seeds to crack their hard shells and allow them to soak for two to three hours. Then sow them in a container of sterile cactus soil, covering them only lightly, with less than 1/4 inch of soil. Keep the container at room temperature until the seeds sprout, which can take two to four weeks.

I tried sowing chorizema seeds several years ago, but all my seedlings damped off. That was, however, before I learned to use cactus soil as a seed-starting mix for plants which prefer dry conditions. An anxious over-waterer, I'm having much better success with such types now.

Dave's Garden member duliticola notes that Chorizema cordatum may begin to bloom the same year that it is sown, when it is only 6 inches or so tall. In some cases, however, flame peas can take two to three years to flower when started from seed. Then you can do a little happy dance of your own and lift your water glass to Jacques, who knew a boogie-worthy bloom when he saw it!


Images: The Chorizema cordatum image is from J. S. Henslow's 1838 The Botanist and the Chorizema ilicifolium image by P. J. Redoute from A. Bonpland's 1831 Descriptiones Cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre, both courtesy of plantillustrations.org.The lead image is from PlantFiles