Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Sensitive Partridge-pea - Chamaecrista nictitans   (L.) Moench
Members of Fabaceae:
Members of Chamaecrista with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
Author(L.) Moench
DistributionStatewide; among the most widespread legumes in the state, certainly occurring in all 100 counties.

This is an Eastern and Southern species, being found in most counties within its range -- from MA and eastern KS on the north to the Gulf Coast of FL and TX on the south.
AbundanceVery common statewide; one of the most widespread of the native plants in the state.
HabitatAs with its congener C. fasciculata, it is found in a great array of open, sunny habitats, ranging from natural ones such as pine flatwoods and dry savannas to weedy lots, roadsides, and other disturbed sites. It is most often seen growing along the margins of dry to mesic woods, as well as in old fields.
See also Habitat Account for General Successional Fields and Forblands
PhenologyBlooms from June into October, and fruits from July into November.
IdentificationThis is a smaller plant than is C. fasciculata, but the basic structure is the same -- a rather bushy herb with many highly pinnately-dissected leaves. This species grows to about 1.5 feet tall, and each leaf is divided into paired leaflets, from 20-36 in total. Each leaflet is only about 1/2-inch long and barely 0.2-inch wide. The numerous flowers are in leaf axils, but most grow singly; each is only about 1/3-inch long. The petals are yellow, with the upper ones being quite short. The similar C. fasciculata has its flowers quite large, typically 1 inch across, with more obvious 5 petals. The pod is about 1.2 inch long and narrow, generally smaller than that on the other species. Even though this species is shorter or smaller in most respects, it is probably not safe to identify one species from the other without seeing the flowers, and perhaps the pods. Whereas both species can be so numerous that you quickly tire of them, even when in bloom you might walk right past an individual of C. nictitans, whereas an individual of C. fasciculata in bloom is quickly noticed.
Taxonomic CommentsBoth species were placed in the genus Cassia for much of the last century, but essentially all references have moved them into Chamaecrista. As with the other species, C. nictitans has such a large range that various varieties are named, and Weakley (2018) indicates that the nominate one -- C. nictitans var. nictitans -- is the only one in NC.

Other Common Name(s)Sensitive-plant or Common Sensitive-plant are often used, but a number of other species outside the genus have sensitive leaves (closing up upon being touched), and some of them have that name as well. Though "Sensitive-plant" is a familiar one for this species, the use of "Partridge-pea" by many references is best, as most species in the genus Chamaecrista are generally named as "Partridge-peas". Sensitive Partridge-Pea is used by Sorrie (2011), NatureServe, and several others.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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