The purple hull pea (Vigna unguiculata) is not a true pea, but a bean. Grown as an annual it is most commonly used as a cover crop and is part of the same group as cowpeas or southern peas. Purple hull peas, as their name suggests, have a deep, richly colored purple hull, and their fruits can be eaten. There are several varieties of purple hull peas, each with their individual benefits and drawbacks.
Bush purple hull peas do not require external support, as the compact nature of the plant is self-supporting. As well, the pods grow close to the top of the foliage, making for an easy harvest. For an early harvest, the “Texas Pink Eye Purple Hull” matures in 55 days. However, more common bush purple hull pea varieties include the “Charleston Greenpack” and the “Petite-N-Green” both of which mature in 70 days and are bred to be mosaic virus resistant.
In some cases, certain purple hull bean varieties will produce vines that are spaced closely together. These varieties are known as semivining as they require less support than full-vining varieties but still require some external support unlike bush varieties. Common semivining purple hull pea varieties include the “Coronet” and the “California Pink Eye” which mature in 58 and 60 days respectively.
Unless you are choosing to use them as a cover crop, vining purple hull peas can rapidly take over all available garden space so an external support, such as a trellis, is frequently used. External supports for vining purple hull peas are similar to supports for pole beans, as they are from the same group. A popular vining purple hull pea variety is the “Mississippi Pink Eye” which matures in 63 days and is bred to be highly resistant to all Fusarium wilt diseases.
In most cases, purple hull pea varieties produce pink-eyed beans that are kidney- or oval-shaped and small. However, the less common crowder variety produces brown colored beans that are slightly larger, although the plants still have a purple outer pod. Crowder beans have a more pronounced flavor than other varieties, including the common pink-eyed purple hull peas as well as the black-eyed or cowpea varieties. A crowder variety is the “Knuckle Purple Hull” which is a bush variety that is ready to harvest in 60 days.