Glycine tabacina

glycine pea


Glycine tabacina

(Labill.) Benth. 1864

pronounced: gly-SEE-nuh tab-ak-EE-nuh

(Fabaceae — the pea family)

subfamily: Faboideae - the bean sub-family

common names: glycine pea, native soya bean

native 4Glycine is derived from the Greek γλυκυς (glykys), sweet, referring to the sweet roots and leaves of some species of this, the soya bean genus; tabacina is from the Spanish tabaco (from the Haitian word for the tobacco plant), –ina from –inus, ‘resembling’ – resembling tobacco.

This is a scrambler with a long taproot: only about 4 mm in diameter, but reaching 20 cm deep, with a few lateral roots. The plant will usually persist for 5–20 years. It is trifoliate, the leaflets often being roundish in young plants, but become long (up to 8 cm by 1 cm) in mature plants. Purple to mauve pea flowers are borne, depending on when it rains, at any time from November to June. The fruit is a bean-like pod 1.5–3 cm long with 3–6 seeds. These seeds are cylindrical with a white fruit body, about 2.5 by 2 cm, locally dispersed, possibly ant-assisted. The hard coating of the seed allows it to lie dormant for quite long periods. It usually grows in woodland, and, after fire, will resprout from the taproot. There are nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium nodules on its roots. This plant is an Australian native, but has also spread to neighbouring countries, as far north as to southern China, and to many of the Pacific Islands.

The root is eaten by Aborigines, either cooked or raw. It is said to have a licorice-like flavour.

The Glycine Pea is a close relative of Glycine max, the soya bean, originally from China, but now grown worldwide, being one of the world’s most important sources of protein and oil. Australia has its own range of native soya bean species, and these are seen as an important genetic resource in the breeding of bigger, better and more disease-resistant hybrids of Glycine max. Deep-rooted perennials like most of our Glycine spp. also have potential for ameliorating salinity problems, and a cultivar of one species, Glycine latifolia, has already been released as a commercial pasture species for the black soils of the Darling Downs in south-eastern Queensland.

A similar species found in much of eastern Australia is Glycine clandestina. This has a very similar habit to our species, but the two plants can easily be distinguished by the lengths of the leaflet stalks. In our species, the middle leaflet has a much longer stalk than the other two, while in Glycine clandestina the three stalks are about the same length.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010, 2011
Page last updated 5th January 2019