Glycine tabacina

Glycine Pea

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

Glycine tabacina is a creeping trailing to climbing plant with very fine and slender stems, rooting at the nodes.

It has a very large geographic distribution, found commonly over the coast, tablelands and western slopes of New South Wales, extending a little into the western plains. It is extends well into Queensland right up to Cape York Peninsula and the central west, most of Victoria (except for the north-west). It is scattered through the eastern half of South Australia and also scattered disjunctly through Western Australia.

It is typically found in dry and wet sclerophyll woodland and forests – as well as grasslands and shrublands, usually on clay and loam soils but probably found on sand as well.

Glycine is a member of the “pea” family. This generally means that leaves are alternate with stipules at the base of the petioles. Glycine have compound and alternate leaves, with stipules present. Leaves are tri-foliolate (with 3 leaflets, typical of most pea-scramblers or vines). In this species, leaflets are to 70 mm long by 20 mm wide, usually the central leaflet is the longest, mid to dark green in colour.

Flowers are, of course, pea-shaped (a term sometimes used is papilionate), with 5 petals in a fixed arrangement; the main back petal is called the “standard”, two lateral petals called “wings” and two fused petals at the bottom called the “keel” (in which the anthers and one carpel tend to be hidden).

In Glycine, flowers are mauve to purple or blue as well as pink-red, and are usually arranged in small racemes or clusters in leaf axils.  in small groups in leaf axils or on the ends of branchlets. The upper two of five sepal lobes are joined in a single “lip”. The standard petal is typically wider than high (a useful identification feature), and the keel is the same length as the wings.

In this species, flowers are purple to mauve, about 6 mm long and about 8 mm across, produced in racemes to about 15 cm long, emerging from leaf axils.

The flowers are followed by linear pods up to three centimetres long which twist when ripe and release from 3-6 hard coated seeds. Ants may assist in seed dispersal.

In the garden

A plant that is somewhat unlikely to be deliberately introduced to a garden but it can likely be purchased at native nurseries. It is one of those native species that can just ‘appear’ in gardens, especially grassy groundlayer areas with good resilience. It can appear after weeding efforts in large amounts. It can make a good groundcover once established and lends to themes such as ‘native meadows’ in gardens or adjoining bushland areas. It can persist in turf as well in some cases.

The tap roots are edible and were reported to be eaten by First Nations Peoples. The roots are said to have a liquorice flavour.

It will around nearby plants but does not usually affect their vigour. It is not easily seen until flowers are produced.

Very hardy once established.


Propagate from seed that should be treated with boiling water to soften the seed coat.

Other information

This species is similar to  G. clandestina and the two can grow together. G. clandestina tends to have longer and narrower leaves and climbs very readily whereas G. tabacina tends to be more of a groundcovering plant.

Glycine is a genus of about 26 species worldwide. Australia has 24 species. The best known member of the genus is the exotic G. max, the well known and widely eaten soybean from East Asia. Some Australian species show a lot of intergradation and hybrids are possible. NSW currently has 11 species.

This species regenerates readily after fire from the seed bank. It can also be seen to regenerate well after weeding efforts in some ecosystems where there is strong groundlayer resilience.

Glycine – from the Greek – Glykos (γλυκός) – meaing ‘sweet’ – referring to the sweetness of the leaves and roots of some species.

tabacina – Latin – meaning ‘tobacco’ – possibly referring to the smell or colour of this species.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Glycine tabacina profile page        https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Glycine~tabacina

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

VICFlora – Flora of Victoria Online – Glycine tabacina profile page https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/cf0d68e2-b0a0-4b16-b767-5b962b87ee98

By Warren and Gloria Sheather. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.