Vicia americana (American Vetch)

Plant Info
Also known as: Purple Vetch
Genus:Vicia
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, sun; fields, prairies, open woods, thickets, along roads
Bloom season:May - September
Plant height:1 to 3 foot vine
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] 2 to 9 flowers in loose clusters (racemes) arising from leaf axils in the upper part of the stem. Individual flowers are a typical shape for a member of the pea family, slightly elongated, ½ to ¾ inch long. Flower color ranges from pink to purple to blue. The calyx holding the flower is hairless to minutely hairy, with 5 broadly triangular lobes, the lower lobes up to twice as long as the short upper lobes, and all rather shorter than the calyx tube. Flower stalks are minutely hairy. 

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in groups of 4 to 8 pairs, with a tendril at the end of the leaf that winds around other plants for support. At the base of the stalk is a pair of leafy appendages (stipules) that are up to 1/3 inch long, sharply pointed at both ends, with 3 sharp teeth in the lower half. Leaflets are narrowly egg-shaped to elliptic and may have rounded, blunt or pointed tips. Each is up to 1½ inch long and about ¼ inch wide, toothless and hairless, becoming smaller towards the end of the leaf. Stems are angled, but otherwise smooth.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a pea-shaped pod, about 1 inch long, that turns from green to reddish brown as the fruit ripens. Pods contain an average of 10 seeds.

Notes:

There are several members of the pea family that are climbing vines with racemes of purplish or pinkish flowers. One major distinguishing feature is the stipule at the base of the leaf stalk, which is unique for many species; American Vetch is unique with the 3 sharp teeth on the lower half of the stipule. The non-native vining vetches tend to create dense, tangled masses where American Vetch is more spindly, with fewer flowers in looser clusters. When not in bloom, American Vetch plants with rounded leaflets might be mistaken for Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia), but Crown Vetch has no tendril at the end and its stems are leafier, plus Crown Vetch has round flower clusters. There are 3 recognized subspecies of Vicia americana, 2 of which are found in Minnesota: subsp. americana is widespread, subsp. minor is uncommon. The differences between the two subspecies are not well documented but minor may have narrow, thick leaflets, 4 or fewer flowers per cluster, and a limited habitat of short-grass prairie, with americana more tolerant of moister soils, have broader, thin leaflets, and 4 or more flowers per cluster.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Wild Ones Twin Cities Chapter

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Molly - Ramsey County
on: 2009-07-01 20:47:54

I found the american vetch on the side of the road in White Bear Lake by Bald eagle lake. I noticed the stunning flowers (a whole field) and picked a section to identify it. Your website says 4 to eight leave pairs this section had 7.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2009-07-01 22:37:43

Unless it's your own property I recommend you take pictures of wildflowers you want to identify later, rather than pick them. You don't know if you're taking something harmful, or causing harm to the habitat. Besides, you could be fined if you're caught taking flowers from public lands.

Posted by: Patrick - Bemidji, Beltrami County
on: 2011-06-16 22:05:27

Have several of these on the perimeter of my backyard. Couldn't identify it with Wildflowers of Minnesota Field Guide. Had to come to this website.

Posted by: Sue - Becker Co.
on: 2011-06-19 12:17:31

It has been blooming all around our wooded area for the past week or so. I do not recall this many in years past. I hope it chokes out the non-native Candada vetch of which I am having difficulty in controlling.

Posted by: Ian - St. Paul
on: 2013-07-15 15:45:41

Hi Sue Are you by chance referring to the Canadian Milkvetch (astragalus canadensis)? If so, just know that it is also a native plant, and has value as a nitragen fixer, soil stabilizer and resource for wild pollinators; especially bumble bees(much like the American vetch).

Posted by: Nora - Longville
on: 2014-06-26 20:36:49

Blooming along the roadside near Little Boy Lake in Longville Minnesota the week of June 9th.

Posted by: Carol - Kanabec and Pine county line
on: 2015-07-21 23:07:54

Our driveway ends at the Pine county/Kanabec county line. We have these growing in our front yard near the road. They remind me of the Jacob's Ladder plant.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.



(required)




Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.