Pink & White Vetches with Pinnate Leaves

Bird's-foot Common Sainfoin Wild Liquorice Narrow-leaved Vetch

What are they?

This group of pink- or white-flowered plants consists of species that are mostly short annuals or low-growing perennials in the pea family. This family is one of our largest and contains a wide array of species, but all with the 'classic' pea flower. Most species on this page are named vetches and have pinnate leaves, that is to say leaves that are made up of a series of opposite pairs of leaflets. The leaves often terminate in a twining tip known as a tendril, which may be simple or forked.

Where are they found?

This is a diverse assemblage of species but most are to be found in grassy habitats such as roadsides, grassy meadows and heaths and grassy banks.

Identification

Leaf structure and overall flower features will get you into the right area to start with - especially whether the flowers are solitary or in clusters. If they are present, it is also worth noting details of the seed pods.



Common Vetch      Vicia sativa ssp. segetalis

Native or an ancient introduction as a fodder crop. Widespread and common in most types of grassy places, especially enriched or managed areas such as farmland, roadsides and urban areas. Flowers May to September. A scrambling perennial plant to 80cm. Flowers single or occasionally two together in the leaf axils, the standard petal clearly paler than the two wings. All leaves with leaflets of about the same size (upper leaflets not clearly much narrower). Seed pods dark brown or black when mature.

Common Vetch
Habit


Narrow-leaved Vetch      Vicia sativa ssp. nigra

Native. Widespread but typically found on unimproved grasslands on lighter, sandy soils such as in Breckland and along the coast, but also on unmanaged commons. Flowers May to September. A scrambling perennial plant to 50cm. Flowers single or occasionally two together in the leaf axils, the standard petal the same rich pink as the two wings. Upper leaves with leaflets much narrower than those of the lower leaves. Seed pods dark brown or black when mature.

Narrow-leaved Vetch Narrow-leaved Vetch Narrow-leaved Vetch Narrow-leaved Vetch
Habit
Flower and upper leaf
Flower
Seed pods


Cultivated Common Vetch      Vicia sativa ssp. sativa

Introduced as a fodder plant but now rather rare and only occasionally found in marginal arable habitats, where it rarely persists. Flowers May to September. A scrambling plant to 100cm. Flowers single or occasionally two together in the leaf axils, typically larger and more obviously two-coloured than the other forms of Common Vetch. All leaves with leaflets of about the same size (upper leaflets not clearly much narrower). Seed pods light brown when mature.

Cultivated Common Vetch Cultivated Common Vetch Cultivated Common Vetch
Habit
Flower and upper leaves
Flower


Hairy Tare      Vicia hirsuta

Native. A common and often abundant plant in all kinds of grassy places; also as a weed of cultivated ground. Flowers May to September. A delicate, fine-leaved annual, scrambling to 80cm by means of leaf tendrils. Flowers very pale lilac, but appearing white from a distance, usually 2-9 in a cluster; tiny - 3-5mm long. Leaflets very narrow like other tares. Seed pods covered in fine hairs.

Hairy Tare Hairy Tare Hairy Tare Hairy Tare
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Seed pods


Broad Bean      Vicia faba

Introduced from mainland Europe as a vegetable. Commonly grown as an agricultural crop ('field bean') or as a vegetable in gardens and allotments. Occasionally found as a relic of cultivation or where seed has been spilt. Flowers June to July. A hairless, upright plant with broad leaflets. The white flowers have a large, black blotch on the wing petals. Seed pods are large, green and rough.

Broad Bean Broad Bean Broad Bean Broad Bean
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Young plant


Hungarian Vetch      Vicia pannonica

Introduced from mainland Europe. A very rare casual from spilt seed. Flowers June to September. An annual to 60cm, somewhat resembling Common Vetch in general appearance but the standard petal is hairy on the back and the flowers are dull pinkish-purple (ssp. striata) or a dull, brownish-yellow (ssp. pannonica).

Hungarian Vetch Hungarian Vetch Hungarian Vetch Hungarian Vetch
Habit
Flower
Flowers
Leaf & stipule


Crown Vetch      Securigera varia

Introduced from mainland Europe. Persistent on grassy banks in a handful of places, with most plants probably having originated from gardens. Flowers June to July. A scrambling perennial plant which may reach 100cm in height but often much less. Flowers appear in a neatly radial head, like a crown, held above the foliage.

Crown Vetch Crown Vetch Crown Vetch Crown Vetch
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Young seed pods


Goat's-rue      Gallega officinalis

Introduced from mainland Europe. Currently rare as an escape from cultivation on grassy roadside banks, but now abundant in parts of SE England (such as on the south side of London along the M25) and likely to increase in the East Anglia region via Essex. Flowers June to July. A bushy perennial plant without tendrils, growing to 120cm or so in height. Flowers in upright spikes, pale purple or white.

Goat's-rue Goat's-rue Goat's-rue Goat's-rue
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Young seed pods


Wild Liquorice      Astragalus glycyphyllos

Native. A rare plant of shady banks on chalky soils. Flowers July to August. A spreading perennial that may reach a metre in height. Flowers cream-coloured, sometimes appearing white from a distance. Leaves are pinnate with rounded leaflets, the leaves having no tendrils at the tips.

Wild Liquorice Wild Liquorice Wild Liquorice Wild Liquorice
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Seed pods


Hooked Milk-vetch      Astragalus hamosus

Introduced from mainland Europe. Once found on waste ground in Ipswich, where probably accidentally introduced as a grain impurity. Flowers July to August. A low-growing, hairy annual, the leaves with a terminal leaflet and no tendrils. Flowers white in tight clusters, their calyxes with black hairs. The seed pods curve strongly into a hook shape as they mature.

Hooked Milk-vetch Hooked Milk-vetch
Habit
Flowers


Common Sainfoin      Onobrychis viciifolia

Native and introduced. An uncommon native species of undisturbed, grassy places on chalky soils in the west of our region. Also widely introduced and included in grass seed mixes for roadsides on new developments, as well as occasionally grown as an agricultural crop. Flowers June to August. Native plants are delicate, slightly hairy perennials with ladder-like leaves bearing narrow leaflets. Flowers typically pink with darker veins, but occasionally white. Seed pods rounded with a sculptured exterior. Introduced plants of different subspecies tend to be larger in all parts than our native plants. The photos below show native plants in the first row and introduced plants in the second row.

Common Sainfoin Common Sainfoin Common Sainfoin Common Sainfoin
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Seed pods
Common Sainfoin Common Sainfoin Common Sainfoin Common Sainfoin
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Leaves


Cockscomb Sainfoin      Onobrychis caput-galli

Introduced from southern Europe. Once recorded in Norfolk from East Tuddenham in 1979. Flowers July to August. A small annual with flowers carried in few-flowered clusters. The plant gets its names from the spiky, 'cockscomb' seed pods.

Cockscomb Sainfoin Cockscomb Sainfoin Cockscomb Sainfoin
Habit
Seed pods
Seed pods


Bird's-foot      Ornithopus perpusillus

Native. A common annual of dry, sandy soils in Breckland and in coastal areas, as well as on sandy heaths elsewhere. Flowers April to August. A tiny annual, easily overlooked due to its small size amongst other vegetation, but often growing on open, well-trodden places such as tracks and gravel car parks. Flowers just 3-5mm long, tricoloured in white, pink and yellow.

Bird's-foot Bird's-foot Bird's-foot Bird's-foot
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Leaves