Vicia cracca (Tufted Vetch)

Plant Info
Also known as: Bird Vetch, Cow Vetch
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:Europe, Asia
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; disturbed soil; roadsides, fields, waste areas
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
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] Dense, 1-sided raceme of 10 to 50 pea-shaped flowers on stalks arising from leaf axils in the upper stem. Flowers are about ½ inch long, the upper petal (the standard) flaring upward, lateral wings below it oval, extending outward. The erect part of the standard (the banner) is about as long as the part that forms the floral tube (the claw) and is typically purplish-pink to blue-violet; the lateral wings can be the same color but are often paler.

[photo of calyx and stem] The calyx holding the flower is hairless to variously covered in short, appressed hairs and has 5 triangular lobes, the upper lobes shorter and broader than the lower, and all shorter than the calyx tube. Flower stalks are very short and variously covered in short, appressed hairs. The base of the calyx lacks a bulge or is only slightly swollen where it attaches to the stalk.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound with 5 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 ¾ inch long and 1/8 inch wide, linear to oblong-elliptic, toothless, rounded to pointed at the tip, often with a tiny, abrupt point at the tip (mucronate). Both surfaces are covered in short, appressed hairs.

[photo of stipule and stem] At the base of the leaf stalk is a pair of narrow, sharply pointed, leafy appendages (stipules) that are ¼ to 1/3 inch long and short hairy, particularly around the edges. Stems are vining, multi-branched and sprawling, 4-sided with distinct ridges and variously covered in very short hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a flattened pea pod up to 1 inch long, containing 2 to 8 round to oval seeds.


Tufted Vetch is most easily confused with Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa), which usually has distinctly longer, spreading hairs on stems, stalks and calyces where Tufted Vetch is usually more sparsely covered in short, appressed hairs, but hairs alone may not lead to a positive ID. A post on iNaturalist details differences in the flowers that can further distinguish them (see also the image below). In a nutshell:

  • On V. cracca, the banner is about as long as the claw, where on V. villosa the banner is about half as long as the claw so flowers look more elongated. This is pretty obvious and may even be detected from some distance.
  • On V. cracca, the calyx base is not swollen or is only slightly so, where on V. villosa the base is distinctly swollen so it bulges beyond where the flower stalk is attached.
  • On V. cracca, the calyx lobes are all triangular and relatively short, where on V. villosa the lobes are narrow and elongated, more dramatically so on the lower lobes.

Vicia cracca is also perennial where V. villosa is annual, biennial or short-lived perennial. V. cracca is more common in northern Minnesota and V. villosa is more common in the central and southern counties, but reports at EDDMapS and iNaturalist have their ranges starting to overlap, with several reports of V. cracca in and near the Twin Cities Metro area; it is possible some of those reports are mis-IDs due to the ease of mistaking one for the other. In any case, both are weedy and can create dense, tangled mats.

USDA lists 4 subspecies, but they are not well-documented so we do not know what distinguishes one from another. Subsp. cracca, the most common, is present in Minnesota; subsp. tenuifolia (a.k.a. V. tenuifolia) has been recorded a few times in Wisconsin.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Cook County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cook and Kittson counties.


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

Posted by: Nancy - Chisago County, North Branch
on: 2015-06-08 09:16:33

Found alongside a road near where a new culvert was put in last year.

Posted by: Ryan - Shakopee
on: 2015-06-12 21:28:19

Along the west fence line at the dog park off of hwy 169

Posted by: Marta - Coon Rapids
on: 2015-06-25 18:21:04

Around the border (fence) of our new truck terminal, Magnum Cos.

Posted by: Warren - Ham Lake
on: 2016-06-17 19:37:25

Found along roadside and fence lines.

Posted by: Adam V - Anoka
on: 2017-07-07 10:15:37

Growing on empty lot along second street south.

Posted by: Marian - Grand Portage
on: 2017-07-07 13:56:13

Found in a sunny prairie, just south of Canada, next to the Pigeon River between the Grand Portage falls and Lake Superior. Beautiful!

Posted by: Janet Van Sloun - Minnetonka
on: 2019-06-19 11:32:42

This plant is spreading at the Tower Hill Park prairie and the Lone Lake Park rain gardens. It grows over 5 feet tall, but mostly sprawls. Pulled it for a couple hours 6/18; the tap root doesn't come out easily.

Posted by: Janet Van Sloun - Henn. Co., Lone Lake Park, Minnetonka
on: 2020-06-09 01:20:15

This darn plant came in huge quantities in a contractor's seed mix used around the pickleball courts. What the heck! How is it getting into seed mixes? 55 hours pulling with paid contractors on 6/8/2020. Toil to make restoration specialist weary. Thanks for the great photos for positive ID.

Posted by: Baruch Bolinski - Albert Lea near Fountainlake and the dog park
on: 2020-06-09 15:38:12

There was a whole stand of them on the trail around fountain lake so I took a piece home to identify it.

Posted by: Kathy Allen - Northwest Rochester
on: 2022-07-28 09:51:27

We found a medium-sized patch of this in a restored prairie in Rochester (Olmsted Co.). At first I thought it was hairy vetch because the range map doesn't show this one in southern MN, but thanks to your great description and comparison between the two species, we're 98% sure it's tufted vetch.

Posted by: Jeanne McLeod - Little Falls, MN 5645
on: 2022-07-30 13:36:05

Was excited to see this plant in my 15 year old prairie garden on the Mississippi River bank. That is until I identified it on this website. My, goodness. i need to pull it out quickly and look for some more.

Posted by: Kate - Marvin W. Schubring Memorial WMA Stacy, MN
on: 2024-06-03 23:13:52

All along the main trail, but primarily in the meadow parts.

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