This annual wildflower is 1-2½' tall, branching
occasionally. It is
semi-erect, using its tendrils to cling to adjacent vegetation. The
stems are light green, ribbed, and sparsely pubescent. Alternate
compound leaves about 3-5" long occur at intervals along each stem;
each leaf is even-pinnate with 5-6 pairs of leaflets and a branched
tendril at its tip. The petioles of the compound leaves are short. At
the base of each petiole, there is a pair of dentate stipules about ¼"
in length. Individual leaflets are about ¾" long and ¼" across; they
are oblong in shape and smooth along their margins with short pointed
tips. Each leaflet has a short petiolule (basal stalklet) about 1 mm.
long. at its base. The upper leaflet surface is medium green and
hairless, while the lower surface is pale green and slightly pubescent
along the central vein.
The middle to upper leaves produce 1-2 flowers
from their axils; these flowers are nearly sessile (pedicels about 1
mm. long). Individual flowers are about ¾" long, consisting of 5 purple
petals and a light green tubular calyx with 5 teeth. The petals are
arranged in a pea-like floral structure consisting of a banner, 2
wings, and a keel; the latter encloses the reproductive organs. There
is usually a patch of white at the base of the banner (uppermost
petal). The teeth of the calyx are linear-lanceolate and similar to
each other in length. The blooming period occurs from late spring to
mid-summer for about 2 months. The flowers are replaced by elongated
seedpods about 1½-3" in length that are hairless. Initially, the
seedpods are green and flattened, but they later become dark brown and
more swollen as the seeds enlarge. Each seedpod contains 5-12 seeds.
Individual seeds are subgloboid (somewhat flattened) and
smooth. This wildflower spreads by reseeding itself.
Common Vetch adapts to full or partial sun, moist to dry-mesic
conditions, and a variety of soil types, including those that contain
loam and clay-loam. The root system can nodulate and add nitrogen to
the soil. Most growth and development occurs during the cool
weather of spring. Because this wildflower can reseed itself
aggressively, it is rather weedy.
non-native Common Vetch is occasional in both northern and southern
Illinois, while in the central part of the state it is largely absent
However, it is likely to spread to all areas of
the state in the future. The distribution map combines information for
both Vicia sativa sativa
and Vicia sativa nigra
Common Vetch was
introduced into North America from Eurasia for agricultural purposes.
Habitats consist of cropland (mainly wheat fields), fallow fields,
weedy meadows, roadsides, areas along railroads, and miscellaneous
waste areas. Sometimes Common Vetch is deliberated planted as a source
of forage for farm animals. Habitats with a history of disturbance are
The flowers are
cross-pollinated by bumblebees and other long-tongued bees. Various
insects feed destructively on the foliage, flowers, or developing
seedpods of Vicia spp.
(Vetches). These species include the
caterpillars of such butterflies as Colias eurytheme
(Clouded Sulfur), Everes
Tailed Blue), Glaucopsyche
(Marine Blue), and Strymon melinus
(Gray Hairstreak). It also
includes caterpillars of the skipper, Erynnis funeralis
Duskywing), and the moth, Caenurgina
(Vetch Looper). Vetches
are food plants of Acyrthosiphon
(Pea Aphid), several leafhoppers
and the thrips, Sericothrips
. The foliage
of Common Vetch is edible to mammalian herbivores: It is readily eaten
by cattle, horses, sheep, deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. Even though
the seeds are potentially toxic, they are
sometimes eaten by such upland gamebirds as the Ruffed Grouse, Wild
Greater Prairie Chicken, and Bobwhite; some of these birds also consume
limited amounts of the foliage.
Along a railroad and at The Arboretum
of the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois.
Common Vetch is less showy than other vetches because its flowers are
more likely to be hidden within the foliage. Unlike many other vetches,
Common Vetch produces its flowers in sessile pairs or individually,
rather than in one-sided racemes of 3 or more flowers. Several
varieties or subspecies
of Common Vetch have been described in Europe, although they are not
distinguished here. Mohlenbrock (2002) refers to the narrow-leaved
subspecies of Common Vetch as Vicia
, which is a scientific
synonym of Vicia sativa