HOG PEANUT Amphicarpa bracteata
“And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.” (Luke 15:16)
Do you remember the setting of this verse?
It is from the parable Jesus told that is commonly called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This young man insisted that his father give him his part of the inheritance now. The father was not aged and on his deathbed. Yet, contrary to his culture, the young man demanded and got his share.
As the parable continues, the young man went into a far country and soon ran through his inheritance. Penniless, he hired out to a hog farmer. The significance of working with hogs is another break with his culture because Hebrew dietary laws forbade eating pork.
In desperation, he ate pods, the same as the hogs did eat. In this verse he recognizes his pitiful condition. The parable tells of the penitent son’s return to his father and the father’s forgiveness. Today’s wildflower reminds us of this parable.
Could it have been hog peanuts that the Prodigal Son ate? Probably not, but it might have been a Near Eastern relative of the wild vine locally called hog peanut.
Hog peanut is a delicate twining vine with sharp pointed leaves. The leaves range from 3/4-inch to 3 inches long. They grow in sets of three, as in the sketch.
This variety of the pea family grows in moist areas of the woods. Thus, it is rather scarce during dry weather, except perhaps along the banks of creeks.
The blooms come in two varieties
Those most frequently seen are lilac colored. They are about 1/2-inch long and have a two-lip structure that shields the stamens and pistil, a characteristic of the pea family.
The second type of blooms have no petals and grow singularly along the branches that creep at ground level. The blooming season runs from August through September.
In the latter part of the blooming season, two types of pods occur. The fruit of the upper blooms are drooping, pea-like pods with three to five seeds. The fruit of the lower blooms have pods with only one seed.
Sometimes these lower pods form underground. Hogs seem to have a taste for these pods and root them out wherever they are abundant. This accounts for the common name hog peanut.
Farmers in low lying areas view this wild vine as an invasive pest. In remote areas where there are wild boars, hog peanuts attracts them in such number that fences are destroyed and crops ruined, according to Jack Sanders’ “Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles, The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers.”
The parable is a poignant illustration of God’s everlasting love. He tirelessly yearns for a penitent spirit to approach Him. The penitent wanderer can be assured that he or she will be lovingly restored to the Heavenly family.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.