ORRIN MORRIS: Showy crotalaria can be good for the vegetable garden

SHOWY CROTALARIA Crotalaria spectabili

SHOWY CROTALARIA Crotalaria spectabili

Today we consider a wildflower that survives years of drought and years of wet weather.

Its beauty is a witness to the handiwork of God and inspires us to give thanks for plants like this that reflect His love. “All Thy works shall give thanks to Thee, O Lord, And Thy godly ones shall bless Thee.” (Psalm 145:10 )


Crotalaria spectabilis

I was never aware of this plant until moving into Rockdale County. I guess I lived in the city too long.

Now we have them all over our property, including flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and a few places that cause me to mow awkwardly around them. I think they are such beautiful lofty fall bloomers that they rule, rather than me.

The 1 to 1 1/2 inch deep yellow blooms are borne on stalks that may be as tall as 6 feet. There are 10 stamens with both short and long anthers (pollen bearers). A magnifying glass is the only way to see these.

Some locals call this plant the rattlebox because the seeds rattle in the pods when dry. However, its cousin, the crotalaria sagattalis is the official rattlebox. It is a smaller plant, 10 to 18 inches tall, and very hairy.

The Rattlebox has adapted to a cooler climate and is rarely seen in Georgia except in the mountains. The Latin “crotulus” means “rattlesnake” and that snake’s rattles are associated with the noise of the plants seed pods. So call it what you may.

Both plants are annuals, but their seeds are so plentiful they easily re-seed and spread. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous, the presence of the showy crotelaria is said to reduce nematodes in the soil. It is because of this, as well as their beauty, that we let them grow freely in our vegetable garden.

The soil must become warm before the seeds germinate. For example, one summer when we had a warmer than usual spring the seeds began to sprout in June.

By early September, the showy crotelarias are in full bloom. Seed pods become fully aged by mid-October. Blooming continues until a heavy frost kills the plants.

The leaves are simple and obovate, as illustrated. When a leaf is described as simple it means the edges are smooth without indentions (divisions), sharp spines or hairs. The term obovate is used to describe a leaf that is broad and circular at the end and tapers back to the stem.

The leaves range in length from 2 to 8 inches, with the larger leaves closer to the ground.

Showy crotelaria, a native of India, has spread worldwide in tropical and semi-tropical regions. All of the 70-plus members of the crotelaria genus are members of the bean family rather than the pea family. The shape of the bloom would suggest the pea family but the seeds are encased in a barrel-shaped pod (rattlebox), thus the bean family kinship prevails.

Note again the Psalmist’s words, “All Thy works shall give thanks to Thee, O Lord, And Thy godly ones shall bless Thee.” Note the latter part of the verse that says, “And Thy godly ones shall bless Thee.” (Psalm 145:10) May that be you this coming Lord’s Day.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.