Other names: tufted vetch, bird vetch, boreal vetch, vesque craque (French)
Family: Fabaceae (Legume Family)
Range: This species of vetch is native to Europe and Asia. It occurs on other continents as an introduced species, including North America, where it is a common weed.
Native Habitat: It often occurs in disturbed habitats, including old-fields and roadside ditches.
Bloom Time: Late Spring to Late Summer
This flower has long been one of my favorites – dating back to the days when I considered pink, purple and blue to be my favorite colors. It hit two from that list, so I was sold at a young age. I’d also figured out a long time ago that this plant was related to peas. It’s the leaves that really give it away.
This is a very stereotypical weed locally – you can stop it in pretty much any grassy area, and at the side of parking lots. I particularly like it in a meadow, where it’s able to vine out.
Cow vetch is often used as a cover crop or source of green manure, which is why it’s been introduced so far out of its native range. In North America the plant is naturalized from southern Canada to northern South Carolina; it is considered an invasive weed in some areas.
There are about 140 species of vetches. Bitter vetch (V. ervilia) was one of the first domesticated crops. It was grown in the Near East about 9,500 years ago, starting perhaps even one or two millennia earlier during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A. By the time of the Central European Linear Pottery culture – about 7,000 years ago – broad bean (V. faba) had also been domesticated. Vetch has been found at Neolithic and Eneolithic sites in Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.