Identifying Vetch and Vetchlings – Vicia, Lathyrus and others
As an amateur I have found this a scary area to unpick, but have been ticking the flowers off one at a time. These plants are part of the pea family, which also includes clovers, melilots and rarities like spiny restharrow.
Vicia and Lathyrus
Broadly speaking, Vetches include Vicia and Lathyrus with a few odds along the way. I had hoped to give Vetches (mostly Vicia) and Vetchlings (mostly Lathyrus) separate pages until I realised that Bitter-vetch is a Lathyrus and gave up. Such is the world of historic versus scientific naming.
These plants often have tendrils to help them climb, leaflets (divided leaves) and pea flowers in shades of pink, purple, white and yellow (most people are familiar with Broad beans, Vicia faba, Sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus, and Edible peas, Pisum sativum).
Wild vetches and vetchlings
Wild vetches and vetchlings I have encountered include Meadow vetchling, Lathyrus pratensis; Tufted vetch, Vicia cracca, and Broad-leaved everlasting pea, Lathyrus latifolius.
Meadow vetchling – Lathyrus pratensis
The pea shown below is one I have ID’d as Meadow vetchling, Lathyrus pratensis, spotted at Reculver. As usual, if it’s something I haven’t identified before, I check out my copy of Rose. It has to be a vetch or a vetchling because it has tendrils. Looking through the book, the only yellow pea flowers with tendrils as well as leaflets in pairs is Meadow vetchling. I was concerned that the book says the flowers are held in clusters of 5 to 12, so briefly looked at other IDs for smaller numbers of flowers – the only thing I found was Lathyrus aphaca, Yellow vetchling, but the leaves were nothing like that. Going back through my photos from the day I found another pic showing more of the leaves, and one flower head containing five pea flowers. The second pic also shows long flower stems.
I think the leaflet shape (lanceolate, meaning long, narrow and tapering) combined combined with tendrils is quite distinctive. For additional reassurance there are visibly parallel leaf veins, and 1cm long arrow shaped leafy stipules (piece of plant that sticks out at a leaf joint).
Tufted vetch – Vicia cracca
I spotted this Tufted vetch, Vicia cracca, by the river Stour near Canterbury in Kent. As far as I know Tufted vetch and Fodder vetch are the only two purple (as opposed to pink) vetches with tendrils which have long racemes (spikes) of flowers.
Fodder vetch – Vicia villosa
I had initially identified this legume as Tufted vetch in a field on the outskirts of Seaford. But as I write this page, I am noticing that the flowers are broader and more blousy-looking than tufted vetch and have white tips. I’m therefore assigning it as Fodder vetch, which is consistent with the presence of Sainfoin and the idea that this field has been sown by the farmer with a pollen rich wildflower mix.
Broad-leaved everlasting pea – Lathyrus latifolius
I am very familiar with this flower as it grows in the garden of my Victorian terrace. Being perennial, vigorous, naturally large flowered and long-flowering, I can see how it became popular with gardeners. Mine at home climbs to over 2m and self-seeds readily. The large dark pink flowers are each 15mm to 30mm long, with five or more on a stem which fade to white with age. Even from this soft-focus image taken at Reculver, you can see that the stems are substantial and broad-edged. This means that the bloom can be easily separated from the similar Lathyrus grandiflorus, which has fewer flowers per stem.
Blog posts mentioning Vetch and Vetchling, Vicia and Lathyrus are tagged accordingly, e.g. https://photographingwildflowers.co.uk/tag/vetch/
Kidney vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, has it’s own page.
Other odds and ends include Horseshoe vetch, Hippocrepis comosa and Crown vetch, Securigera / Coronilla varia, which I will list as I come across them.