Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Endangered
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, included on the Commenced List (1/11/2009).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans National Recovery Plan for Small Purple-pea (Swainsona recta) (NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW OEH), 2012k) [Recovery Plan].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
ACT:Small Purple Pea (Swainsona recta) - An endangered species (ACT Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate (ACT ESDD), 2013) [Information Sheet].
ACT:Small purple pea Swainsona recta Action Plan No. 9 (ACT Government, 1997h) [Report].
ACT:Woodlands for Wildlife: ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (ACT Government, 2004) [State Action Plan].
NSW:Mountain Swainson-pea - profile (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2005lz) [Internet].
State Listing Status
ACT: Listed as Endangered (Nature Conservation Act 1980 (Australian Capital Territory): 2013 list)
NSW: Listed as Endangered (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (New South Wales): August 2014 list)
VIC: Listed as Threatened (Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Victoria): May 2014 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Endangered (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
VIC: Listed as Endangered (Advisory List of Rare or Threatened Plants in Victoria: 2005)
Scientific name Swainsona recta [7580]
Family Fabaceae:Fabales:Magnoliopsida:Magnoliophyta:Plantae
Species author A.Lee
Infraspecies author  
Reference Contributions from the New South Wales National Herbarium 1 (10 Sep. 1948) 250.
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Other illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Swainsona recta

Common name: Small Purple-pea

Other names:
Mountain Purple-pea

The Small Purple-pea is a slender, rigidly erect and sparsely hairy, perennial forb with a thickened taproot at least 45 cm long. The species produces few to many stems 20—30 cm long. The flowers are purple or bluish (ACT Government 1997h; Zich et al. 1995).

Between the 1940's and 2000's, the range of the Small Purple-pea contracted to three patchily-distributed and disjunct locations in the NSW central slopes, the ACT-Queanbeyan area and near Mt Chiltern in Victoria (NSW OEH 2012k).

The species was historically widespread on the western slopes of NSW and north-east Victoria. Historic herbarium specimens in NSW are from Trangie, Gulargumbone, Wagga, Carcoar, Culcairn, Cumnock and Albury. In Victoria, the species has been recorded near Murchison, Wodonga, Tallangatta, Wangaratta and Echuca (Leigh & Briggs 1992).

As there were no collection specimens since 1935, the Small Purple-pea was presumed to be extinct in Victoria, until a single plant was found on a railway reserve near Glenrowan in 1996 (ACT Government 1997h; Leigh et. al.1984; New 2000). This Victorian population was extant until 1999, when it was destroyed (NSW NPWS, pers. comm. 2000). A small population of four plants was then discovered in Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park in early 2002 (Fannin 2002).

The species has a total area of occupancy of approximately 34.3 ha (NSW OEH 2012k).

Approximately 9500 individuals are now known to survive in several populations across the species’ range (NSW OEH 2012k). Below is a table of known populations, their most recent abundance estimate, area of occupancy and abundance trend (NSW OEH 2012k):

Population Location Population Estimate Area of Occupancy Abundance Trend
1 Tralee-Williamsdale Railway Easement (NSW) 3090 4.5 Stable
2 Mount Arthur Reserve (NSW) 4576 20.31 Unknown
3 Burrendong Arboretum and Burrendong SRA (NSW) 162 4.05 Uncertain (may be declining)
4 Mumbil-Stuart Railway Easement (NSW) 0 0.05 Declining
5 Mudgee-Lue Road (NSW) 2 0.01 Declining
6 Mandurama (NSW) 10 0.01 Declining
7 Royalla (NSW) 10 0.01 Stable
8 Guises Creek (NSW) 50 0.01 Stable
9 Smiths Gap (NSW) 1 0.001 Unknown
10 Stuart Town Common (NSW) 1 0.001 Unknown
11 Burra Creek (NSW) 1 0.001 Unknown
12 Mudgee Lookout (NSW) 270 0.1 Increasing
13 Williamsdale (NSW and ACT) 1003 5.002 Probably stable
14 Burra (NSW) 100 0.1 Probably stable
15 Kambah (ACT) 7 0.02 Slow decline
16 Mount Taylor (ACT) 216 0.1 Increasing
17 Farrer Ridge (ACT) 1 0.001 Uncertain
18 Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park (VIC) 12 0.001 Stable

The Small Purple-pea is thought to be pollinated by insects, which have a very limited ability to disperse pollen over long distances. Therefore, the populations identified in the table above are considered to be separate populations of the species. All populations are considered to be important populations for the long-term survival of the species (NSW OEH 2012k).

The Small Purple-pea occurs in native grasslands and sparse woodland. Woodland habitats are often dominated by Eucalyptus blakelyi (Blakely's Red Gum), E. melliodora (Yellow Box), E. goniocalyx (Apple Box), E. polyanthemos (Red Box), E. albens (White Box), Angophora floribunda (Rough-barked Apple) or Callitris endlicheri (Black Cypress-pine) and have a grassy understorey. Grassland habitats are generally dominated by Themeda triandra, Poa spp. Stipa spp, Bulbine bulbosa and other native grassland species (Briggs & Leigh 1990; Zich et al. 1995). The species may occasionally occur in open-heath or shrubland habitat containing Heathy Bush-pea (Pultenaea procumbens), Urn Heath (Melichrus urceolatus), Hoary Guinea-flower (Hibbertia obtusifolia), Pretty Pearlflower (Cryptandra amara), Daphne Heath (Brachyloma daphnoides), Leucopogon sp. and Many-flowered Matrush (Lomandra multiflora), among others.

The Small Purple-pea grows on both red-brown loams (Wellington-Mudgee area) and grey, gritty or stony loams (ACT area), generally on undulating terrain and at altitudes between 300 and 800 m above sea level (NSW OEH 2012k).

Given the small number of extant populations, small area of occupancy and reliance on in-situ protection, all habitat occupied by the species is considered to be habitat critical to the survival of the species (NSW OEH 2012k).

The Small Purple-pea resprouts from an underground rootstock in autumn and winter (usually between April to August). Plants flower in spring, usually between September to December, peaking in a 2—3 week period during October. Pollination appears to be primarily via insects, however, plants have demonstrated the ability to self-pollinate.

Fruits ripen between late December to early January. The above-ground parts of the plant die back to the perennial rootstock and resprout the following autumn. More abundant seed-set has been observed in larger populations. This may be due to the higher proportion of cross-pollination in larger populations (NSW OEH 2012k).

Fire is known to be essential for breaking seed dormancy (Briggs & Leigh 1985; Zich et al. 1995). Fire benefits the species by breaking the hard seed-coat, thereby enhancing germination, and by reducing the amount of standing dead and living vegetative material (especially from Themeda triandra) with which the Small Purple-pea competes for space, light, water and nutrients (Briggs 1994).

The life span of individuals is unknown, but could be as long as 50 years (NSW OEH 2012k).

Most of the historic range of the Small Purple-pea has been extensively cleared and modified through intensive agricultural land use, such as cultivation and grazing. Further impacts have resulted from the application of fertilisers, the introduction of sown pasture species and the spread of weeds. Scarlett (1981) presumed that the destruction of the last known population (prior to 2002) in Victoria was caused by land clearing, cultivation and heavy grazing by domestic stock.

The current threats to populations throughout the species' range are though to be adult mortality and low recruitment, due to (Leigh & Briggs 1992; NSW OEH 2012k):

  • weed invasion
  • domestic stock grazing
  • browsing by feral and native herbivores
  • damage of flowers and seeds due to invertebrates
  • site erosion
  • herbicide spray drift
  • recreation
  • railway maintenance
  • soil dumping
  • inappropriate fire regimes
  • infrastructure development
  • low numbers, resulting in inbreeding depression

The National Recovery Plan for the Small Purple-pea (NSW OEH 2012k) identifies that the overall recovery objectives for the species are to ensure that all populations of the Small Purple-pea are stable or increasing in size, to ensure that the genetic diversity of the species is maintained and formal protection for currently unprotected populations is achieved.

Specific recovery actions identified in the plan include:

  • Undertaking additional surveys in the vicinity of recently recorded sites
  • Monitoring all known sites
  • Carrying out weed control
  • Undertaking ecological burns
  • Negotiating improved management and/or formal protection of sites
  • Continuing research on the ecological/biological effects of fire (burning frequency and season) on the species and habitat
  • Investigating potential sites suitable for enrichment planting or re-establishment of Small Purple-pea populations and undertaking translocation projects
  • Investigating genetic variation within and between surviving populations and identifying source and target populations for translocation and restoration
  • Measuring the effects of habitat fragmentation and reduced population size on the long-term viability of the species
  • Increasing community awareness and involvement in the Small Purple-pea recovery effort

There are a number of recovery actions that have been undertaken:

  • research into the biological and ecological effects of fire on the species in the Tralee-Williamsdale railway easement. The initial results of this study are published in Briggs and Mueller 1997 (NSW OEH 2012k)
  • fencing erected at several sites (such as the Tralee-Williamsdale railway easement, Lake Burrendong and Mandurama) (NSW OEH 2012k)
  • removal of weeds and feral goat control at Mt Arthur Reserve (NSW OEH 2012k)
  • monitoring (to various levels of intensity) carried out at most known populations (NSW OEH 2012k)
  • ecological burns carried out at Mt Taylor and Kambah sites in the ACT (NSW OEH 2012k)
  • an innoculant derived from Smooth Darling-pea (Swainsona galegifolia) root nodule bacteria being developed in Victoria, to assist in germination and growth of planted Small Purple-pea seedlings (NSW OEH 2012k)
  • the planting of a total of 100 plants at two sites in the Williamsdale area (ANBG 2013).

Documents relevant to the management of the Small Purple-pea can be found at the start of the profile.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation by weeds Species threats data recorded on the SPRAT database between 1999-2002 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012i) [Database].
Swainsona recta in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yl) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Predation, competition, habitat degradation and/or spread of pathogens by introduced species Species threats data recorded on the SPRAT database between 1999-2002 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012i) [Database].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate and/or changed fire regimes (frequency, timing, intensity) Swainsona recta in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yl) [Internet].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate prescribed regimes and/or vegetation management to control fire regimes Species threats data recorded on the SPRAT database between 1999-2002 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012i) [Database].
Residential and Commercial Development:Housing and Urban Areas:Habitat loss, modification and fragmentation due to urban development Species threats data recorded on the SPRAT database between 1999-2002 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012i) [Database].
Swainsona recta in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yl) [Internet].
Species Stresses:Indirect Species Effects:Poor recruitment (regeneration) and declining population numbers Swainsona recta in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yl) [Internet].

ACT Government (1997h). Small purple pea Swainsona recta Action Plan No. 9. [Online]. Canberra: Environment ACT. Available from:

Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) (2013b). Blooming success for a rare species. [Online]. ANBG News. Available from:

Briggs, J.D. (1994). Research into the Ecological/Biological Effects of Fire on S. recta: Survey of the Tralee-Williamsdale railway easement and the design and establishment of initial research plots. Page(s) 1-22. Canberra:CSIRO.

Briggs, J.D. & J.H. Leigh (1985). Delineation of Important Habitats of Rare and Threatened Plant Species in the Australian Capital Territory. Canberra: CSIRO.

Briggs, J.D. & J.H. Leigh (1990). Delineation of Important Habitats of Threatened Plant Species in South-Eastern New South Wales. Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission.

Briggs, J.D. & Mueller, W.J. (1997). Effects of fire and short term domestic stock grazing on the composition of a native secondary grassland bordering the Australian Capital Territory, Aug. 1997.

Fannin, P. (2002). Victorian gardener finds long-lost peas in a pod. The Age. [Online]. The Age, Melbourne. Available from:

Leigh, J., R. Boden & J. Briggs (1984). Extinct and Endangered Plants of Australia. Melbourne, Victoria: Macmillan.

Leigh, J.H. & J.D. Briggs (Eds) (1992). Threatened Australian Plants. Overview and Case Studies. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.

New, T.R. (2000). Conservation Biology. An Introduction for Southern Australia.

NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS) (2000). Personal communication. Sydney: NSW NPWS.

NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW OEH) (2012k). National Recovery Plan for Small Purple-pea (Swainsona recta). [Online]. Hurstville: NSW OEH. Available from:

Scarlett, N.H. (1981). A Register of Rare and Endangered Native Plant Species in Victoria. Melbourne:La Trobe University.

Zich, F.A., Briggs, J.D. & Corrigan, V.T. (1995). Swainsona recta (Small Purple Pea) Recovery Plan. Canberra: CSIRO & NSW NPWS.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Swainsona recta in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:40:47 +1000.