Vicia villosa (Hairy Vetch)
|Also known as:||Winter Vetch|
|Life cycle:||annual, short-lived perennial|
|Habitat:||sun; sandy soil; disturbed soil, fields, roadsides|
|Bloom season:||June - August|
|Plant height:||1 to 3 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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One-sided raceme of 5 to 20 pairs of drooping, elongated pea-shaped flowers. Flowers are ½ to ¾ inch long, the upper petal (standard) flaring upward, lateral wings below it oval, extending outward, as long as the standard is high. The standard is typically pink to deep purple with lighter colored lateral wings though sometimes all flowers in a cluster are all white.
The calyx holding the flower is swollen at the base and covered in spreading hairs, with 5 prong-like lobes, the upper lobes narrowly triangular and shorter than the calyx tube, the lower lobes longer than the upper and often longer than the tube. Flower stalks are covered in spreading hairs.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are compound with 8 to 12 pairs of leaflets, and a branched tendril at the end that entwines surrounding vegetation for support. Leaves can be up to 10 inches long and 2 inches wide but 6 inches or less is typical. Leaflets are about 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide, toothless, hairy, generally elliptical.
At the base of the leaf stalk is a pair of narrow, leafy appendages (stipules) that are ¼ to 1/3 inch long and densely hairy. Stems are vining, multi-branched and sprawling, with distinct ridges and covered in spreading hairs.
Fruit is a flattened pea pod up to 2 inches long, containing several round seeds.
A historical forage introduction, this aggressive legume has spread widely in east central Minnesota and is a common purple flower in the landscape along roadsides and fields, forming dense mats of tangled stems. Walking through a patch of it can be like trudging through a jungle. As with any flower it has some aesthetic value but for the human mind only, it is of marginal forage need to larger herbivores and provides poor wildlife habitat with little or no insect productivity while spreading in higher grade native habitats, particularly in restoration areas. It is likely highly under reported in Minnesota. A similar species is Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca), which is most easily distinguished by the minute hairs rather than spreading hairs of Hairy Vetch, plus it has slightly smaller flowers. Tufted Vetch is also a perennial where Hairy Vetch is mostly an annual. There are 4 recognized subspecies of V. villosa, 2 of which have been found in Minnesota, both weedy.
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- Hairy Vetch plants
- a tangle of hairy vetch
- an infestation of Hairy Vetch
- purple and white flowers
- pink flowers
- more leaves
- sprawling plant, prior to flowering
Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at numerous locations in Anoka County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?