Vicia cracca


Amherstview, Canada

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Wildflower growing along a trail in the Lemoine Point Conservation area, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D; Lens: Canon EF-70-200mm f/4.0L USM; f/4.5 @ 1/250 sec; ISO 200; Focal Length: 200m

500 views as of 3 August 2013


Vicia cracca (tufted vetch, cow vetch, bird vetch, boreal vetch), is a species of vetch native to Europe and Asia. It occurs on other continents as an introduced species, including North America, where it is a common weed. It often occurs in disturbed habitats, including old-fields and roadside ditches. Cow Vetch is similar to a pea in growth habit, sending out noose-like tendrils from the tips of its leaves when it contacts another plant and securely fastens itself. This can cause “strangling” of smaller plants. An individual plant may reach a length (or height) of 2 m and its taproot may extend up to 1 m. The leaves are 3–8 cm long, pinnate, with 8–12 pairs of leaflets, each leaflet 5–10 mm long.
     The plant is fast-growing and flowers prolifically, sending out one-sided racemes of cascading pea-flower shaped purple to violet flowers from the leaf axil during its late spring to late summer flowering period. The flowers drop off and tiny bright green seed pods start to form. Cow Vetch is very similar to Hairy Vetch (V. villosa), but is distinguished from the latter by its smooth stem.
     Cow Vetch is widely used as a forage crop for cattle, and is beneficial to other plants because, like other leguminous plants, it enriches the soil in which it grows by its nitrogen-fixing properties. Cow Vetch is also much appreciated by bees and butterflies as a source of nectar. The plant may also be used to curb erosion.
     Its utility as a cover crop and source of green manure has encouraged the introduction and naturalisation of Cow Vetch far beyond its native range. In North America the plant is naturalised from southern Canada to northern South Carolina; it is considered an invasive weed in some areas and its sale may be regulated.


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