Blue & Purple Vetches with Pinnate Leaves

Smooth Tare Purple Milk-vetch Goat's-rue Tufted Vetch

What are they?

This group of blue- or purple-flowered plants consists of species that are a mix of short annuals, low-growing perennials or scramblers with leaf tendrils in the pea family. This family is one of our largest and contains a wide array of species, but all have 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, or 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, you should also note details of the seed pods. For some of the vetches with elongated clusters of flowers, details of the shape of the flower base is important.



Sea Pea      Lathyrus japonicus

Native. A Nationally Scarce species but Suffolk's beaches are one of its strongholds and the species can be found on suitable beaches throughout that county's coastline. Always rare in Norfolk and probably now extirpated from the Cley/Blakeney area by coastal erosion and saltwater flooding. Flowers June to August. A prostrate species of shingle beaches with relatively large, show flowers.

Sea Pea Sea Pea Sea Pea Sea Pea
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
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


Purple Milk-vetch      Astragalus danicus

Native. Nationally scarce and classed as Endangered. In grassy places on chalky soils from Breckland, southwest into Cambridgeshire. Flowers May to July. A low, creeping perennial with rather hairy leaves. Forms low mats on open grass heaths, but may reach 30cm or so in longer vegetation.

Purple Milk-vetch Purple Milk-vetch Purple Milk-vetch Purple Milk-vetch
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Leaf


Tufted Vetch      Vicia cracca

Native. Common in a wide variety of grassy places, most commonly along hedgebanks, woodland edge and the sides of footpaths. Flowers June to August. A strong climbing or straggling plant with stems to two metres or more in length. Flowers deep purple, usually 10-40 in an elongated, more or less one-sided spike. Leaves with 5-12 pairs of leaflets and a forked tendril. Looking at the flowers from side on, the upper half of the calyx (at the base of the flower) is only a little more rounded than the basal half.

Tufted Vetch Tufted Vetch Tufted Vetch Tufted Vetch
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Leaf petiole


Hairy Vetch      Vicia villosa

(Fodder Vetch) Introduced. Occasional in grassy places as a result of use as a fooder crop, soil enhancer or as part of 'wildflower' mixes. Flowers June to August. A strong climbing or straggling plant with stems to two metres or more in length. Flowers deep purple, usually 10-30 in an elongated, more or less one-sided spike. Leaves with 4-12 pairs of leaflets and a forked tendril. Looking at the flowers from side on, the upper half of the calyx (at the base of the flower) is more strongly rounded than the basal half, creating an assymetrical flower base that bulges more at the top. More roughly hairy with courser hairs than Tufted Vetch.

Hairy Vetch Hairy Vetch Hairy Vetch Hairy Vetch
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Leaf petiole


Bush Vetch      Vicia sepium

Native. A widespread species in shady lanes, hegebanks and woodland edge on heavier, clay soils. Flowers May to August. A strong climbing or straggling plant with stems to two metres or more in length. Flowers dull pinkish-purple with darker veins, usually 2-10 in a cluster. Leaves with 5-9 pairs of leaflets and a forked tendril. Leaflets shorter and broader than those of Tufted Vetch.

Bush Vetch Bush Vetch Bush Vetch Bush Vetch
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Leaf


Spring Vetch      Vicia lathyroides

Native. A fairly common species of short, grassy turf on sandy soils in Breckland and coastal areas. Flowers May to June. A delicate annual to 20cm in length, which is easily overlooked due to its small size. Leaves generally with 2-4 pairs of leaflets and with an unforked tendril or the tendril absent. Flowers solitary, small, 6-9mm long, purple, usually one-coloured but sometimes bi-coloured.

Spring Vetch Spring Vetch Spring Vetch Spring Vetch
Habit
Habit
Leaf
Leaf


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


Smooth Tare      Vicia tetrasperma

Native. Widespread but thinly scattered throughout much of the region on dry, chalky or clay soils in grassy places. Flowers May to August. A delicate, fine-leaved annual, scrambling to 80cm by means of leaf tendrils, the leaves bearing 3-6 pairs of leaflets. Flowers very pale lilac with darker veins, but appearing white from a distance, usually 1-4 (most typically 2) in a cluster; tiny - 4-8mm long. Leaflets very narrow like other tares. Seed pods hairless.

Smooth Tare Smooth Tare Smooth Tare Smooth Tare
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Seed pods


Wood Bitter Vetch      Vicia orobus

Introduced but of doubtful occurence. A westerly species in the UK, with old records from Suffolk and Cambridgeshire being questioned but the species could possibly occur as a rare escape from cultivation. Flowers June to September. A more or less upright species to 60cm with leaves that have no tendrils. Flowers white with purple veins with up to 20 in a rather dense head.

Wood Bitter Vetch Wood Bitter Vetch Wood Bitter Vetch Wood Bitter Vetch
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Leaf


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
Flower
Leaf & stipule


Liquorice      Glycyrrhiza glabra

Introduced from mainland Europe. A very rare casual, formerly grown for the source of the confectionary and recorded in the past from Cambridgeshire. Flowers June to September. A medium to tall, herbaceous perennial, growing sometimes to two metres in height with wide-spreading branches.

Liquorice Liquorice Liquorice
Habit
Flowers
Leaf