Bird Vetch (Vicia cracca)

Cow Vetch 

Bird Vetch is a vine also known as Blue Vetch of the genus Vicia, species cracca and is sometimes listed as the subspecies cracca.  It is in the Pea Family (Fabaceae) and the order Fabales. The order and family name comes from the Latin for "bean". The genus name, Vicia, is Latin for "vetch."   The pea-like flowers are about one inch (1.3 centimeters) long, can be any combination of white, pink or purple but generally tend to be lavender. They are grouped in one-sided, long, elongated clusters directed downward. Each flower head can be more than four inches (10 centimeters) long. As shown in the photographs, the flower heads are at the top of curved stems connected to the vine at the leaf axes. The upper petals of each flower, called standard petals, are pink to purple. The side petals, called wings, are lighter shades and even white. This plant flowers from May to August.

Cow Vetch Flowers

The leaves are compound, pinnately divided into 16 to 24 ovate leaflets arranged alternately, opposite along the leaf stalk with one tendril extending from the end of the leaf stalk.  The leaflets are about an inch (2.5 centimeters) long and have a bristle tip. The compound leaves are up to six inches (15 centimeters) long.

The fruit is a seed pod containing brown, round seeds.

The root system is a rhizome.

This plant is noted for its nitrogen fixation, thereby enriching the soil. It is also useful for stabilizing soil. Animals will graze on this plant.

Bird Vetch can be confused with, Cow Vetch (Vicia craccea ssp. tenuifolia), Crown Vetch (Securigera varia) and Winter Vetch (Vicia villosa). However, Crown Vetch (Securigera varia) has ball-like flower clusters. Winter Vetch has hairy stems. Cow Vetch, another subspecies, is not normally found in Maine.


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