Common Vetch

Vicia sativa L. ssp. sativa

Family: - Fabaceae.


Vicia is the Latin name for vetch.

Common Vetch because this is the commonly cultivated form.

Other names:


English Vetch

Golden Tares


Smooth Vetch

Spring Vetch



Vetch is a scrambling hairy to hairless, annual leguminous vine climbing by means of branched tendrils. The leaves are divided like a feather into 3-10 pairs of small narrow leaflets, each 8-30 mm long. It has almost stalkless pink to purple pea flowers, each 1-2 cm long and either single or in few-flowered clusters. The seed pod is narrow, slightly flattened and 3-5 cm long.

Native to western Asia, it is grown as a fodder crop and is now a weed of roadsides, disturbed areas and sometimes invades bushland. It flowers in spring.



Two. Remain below ground if buried. Hairless.

First leaves:

The first few leaves only one or two pairs of elliptical leaflets with rounded to squarish bases, pointed tips, smooth edges and no tendril.


Alternate, 20-100 mm long. Does not form a rosette. 4 -18 irregularly paired leaflets ending in a slender, usually branched tendril.

Stipules - Almost arrow shaped, 3-8 mm long, toothed, may have dark or purple blotch and several long, tapering, spreading lobes. Semi clasping. Egg shaped yellowish gland

Petiole - Short.

Blade - Of leaflet, broadly egg shaped to oblong, wedge shaped or heart shaped, 6-30 mm long by 2 -12 mm wide. Short, sharp, flexible point at the shallowly notched, flat or round tip of the leaflet. Base tapered. Margins smooth. Almost hairless to slightly furry or greyish white hairy.


Twining, up to 1000 mm long, square with lengthwise ridges. Branch from the base. Form a tangled mat up to 800 mm high. Hairy to hairless and usually sparsely hairy.

Flower head:

Single or pairs of almost stalkless flowers in the upper leaf axils.


Pink/purple, red or white pea-type flowers, 18-30 mm long. Blanchefleur has white flowers. Languedoc has purple flowers

Ovary - Style thread like, bearded in upper part.

Calyx - 15-22 mm long, cylindrical, ribbed, slightly inflated on one side. Hairless to slightly furry. Calyx tube 5-7 mm long. Lobes almost equal, tapering, 3-10 mm long (as long or longer than calyx tube), 3 veined, hairy.

Petals - Pink, red, purple or white. Standard petal purple, 10-30 mm long, limb egg shaped. Wing petals 8-15 mm long. Wings and keel red or darker than standard petal.

Stamens - 10, upper stamen free, other 9 united in an open tube, staminal tube oblique at summit.

Anthers -


Brown to yellow flattened oblong pod, 30-70 mm long by 3-11 mm wide, hooked at tip, 6-12 seeded on short stalk. Does not turn black on maturity. Cellular partitions. Usually constricted around each seed. Pod may be hairy.


Globular to flattened or oblong, smooth, 3.5-6.5 mm long. Languedoc has brownish grey seeds with beige flesh and is 4-5 mm diameter. Blanchefleur has reddish brown seeds with orange flesh and is 5-6 mm diameter.


Taproot with N fixing nodules.

Key Characters:

Weak climbing herb.

Leaves divided into 3-10 pairs of leaflets, paripinnate, terminating in a branched tendril.

Leaflets broad, oblanceolate, obovate-cuneate or broadly cuneate.

Stems terete to angular.

Stipules with several long acuminate spreading lobes.

Flowers very irregular(zygomorphic), petals unequal, more or less united, the upper one(standard) outside the others in bud.

Flowers sub sessile, 1-2 together in axils.

Calyx lobes narrow acuminate, longer than the tube.

Style filiform, bearded in upper part.

Stamens 10, upper stamen free, other 9 united in an open tube, staminal tube oblique at summit.

Pod compressed, narrowly oblong, 30-70 mm long, 6-12 seeded, fawn coloured, 2 valved, dehiscent, not breaking transversely into articles, not turning black when mature.

Embryo curved.

From J.M. Black, N.T. Burbidge and J.R. Wheeler.


Life cycle:

Annual. Seeds germinate in autumn to winter and it grows over the cooler months. Flowers September to November and dies in summer.


Water logging tolerant.


By seed.

Flowering times:

Late winter to spring in western NSW.

July to October in SA.

September to November in Perth.

Spring in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Produces some hard or dormant seed.

Vegetative Propagules:



Some cultivated varieties are hybrids.

It forms hybrids with a number of other Vicia species, which often makes identification difficult.

Cultivar Blanchefleur is white flowered, rust resistant and preferred in medium rainfall areas. Cultivar Languedoc is purple flowered and preferred in the lower rainfall areas.


Stubble may be allelopathic.

Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Spread mainly by man or as a contaminant of other crop seed.

Pods shatter readily preventing efficient harvesting and leaving seed to contaminate following crops.

Origin and History:

Europe or Western Asia.



Most parts of Tasmania.


Often more abundant in winter wet depressions and disturbed sites.


Temperate. Mediterranean.


Grows on a range of agricultural soils.


Fodder, grain legume crop. Weed of other crops and disturbed areas. Occasionally toxic.


Cultivated as a fodder or green manure crop.

Grows on nitrogen depleted soils and wet areas.


Weed of other crops, roadsides, grasslands, channels, gardens, wetlands, woodlands and disturbed areas.


Possibly toxic (Webb, 1948). It contains gluco-alkaloids and neurotoxic cyanoamino acids in the seed. Field cases are rare.


Hyperactivity, convulsions and rigidity


Remove animals from vetch source. Recovery takes around 4 hours.



Management and Control:

Common Vetch is susceptible to Cowpea Aphid, Native Budworm, Ascochyta, Chocolate Spot and most cultivars are susceptible to rust.

They tolerate sodic and high boron soils.


1 plant/m2 is sufficient to cause grain contamination.

Eradication strategies:

Prevent seed set for 5 years by grazing, mowing, pulling or applying herbicides.

Hand spray with 1 g of chlorsulfuron(700g/kg) plus 25 mL wetting agent in 10 L of water or boom spray with 20 g/ha chlorsulfuron(700g/kg) in autumn to early winter each year. Hand pull survivors in spring before seed set.

For small infestations and in grass dominant areas an annual application of 10 mL Tordon®75-D in 10 L water in early winter gives excellent control of existing plants and has residual activity to control seedlings.

In bushland, 200 g/ha Lontrel®750 or 50 g/ha Logran® applied in early winter provides reasonably selective control. For hand spraying use 25 mL wetting agent plus 4 g Lontrel®750 or 1 g Logran® in 10 L water. Repeat annually for several years.

Plant tall growing perennial species to reduce re-invasion.

Metsulfuron also provides good control but is less residual and less selective. It is relatively tolerant to glyphosate.

Herbicide resistance:

None reported.

Biological Control:

Sensitive to Red legged Earth mite.

Related plants:

Broad Bean (Vicia faba var. major)

Hairy Vetch (Vicia hirsuta) has an elongated inflorescence of several small flowers each only 2-3 mm long and small, 6-9 mm long hairy seed pods.

Horse Bean (Vicia faba var. equina)

Narrow-leaved Vetch (Vicia sativa ssp. nigra)

Narrowleaf Vetch (Vicia sativa ssp. angustifolia) is similar but with smaller leaflets, 15-20 mm long by 2-4 mm wide, stipules with 2 divergent lobes and no teeth, smaller flowers, 8-18 mm long, calyx teeth shorter than the tube, smaller seeds 2-4 mm long and the pods are black, hairless not constricted between the seeds and smaller at 22-55 mm long. It is tolerant of acid soils.

Purple Vetch (Vicia benghalensis, Vicia atropurpurea)

Slender Vetch (Vicia tetrasperma)

Spurred Vetch (Vicia monantha)

Tick Bean (Vicia faba var. minor)

Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca)

Woollypod Vetch (Vicia villosa ssp. dasycarpa).

Plants of similar appearance:

Smooth Darling Pea (Swainsona galegifolia) is similar but leaves end in a leaflet not a tendril and flowers in long racemes.

Peas (Pisum sativum).

Lathyrus (Lathyrus spp.) has a single pair of leaflets and winged stems.


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