Season of the Vetch

Purple Vetch (Vicia benghalensis)
Purple Vetch (detail)

Late March and early April is the season of the vetch. Two kinds, actually, the Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) and the Purple Vetch (V. benghalensis). This year, the Purple Vetch has gone bananas. All along the outer margin of the north side and parts of the west edge, this hairy climber dominates. In places it has used last year’s dried Fennel stalks as a scaffold and climbed to human eye level, snuffing out the Fennel’s own new growth efforts in the process.

The vetch blooms every year but I’ve never seen it explode like this year. The plant is an annual that self-seeds. There may be long-term cycles in this plant’s reproduction scheme that produce boom years and off years for unknown reasons.

The vetches come from the Mediterranean region, and have been widely introduced worldwide as a cover crop and green manure. Because of its dense growth habit, Purple Vetch can be useful for weed control, but it’s itself a weed if it invades fields dedicated to other crops. It fixes nitrogen in the soil. It may be used as a honey plant where European bees are available. Some farmers use it for hay and fodder, but there are reports of cattle becoming ill or dying as a result of ingesting too many of the seeds. The plant is hermaphroditic, containing both male and female flowers. It appears to have zero culinary or medicinal virtues.

Common Vetch (Vicia sativa)

How the vetches got to Chavez Park is unknown. There’s no record of Parks management planting them. There are no reports of birds eating the seeds. Possibly the vetches came in on mowing machinery that was used to cut vetches growing elsewhere.

They do not tolerate drought. Unless we get more rain, by the end of May they will have died back and seem to disappear.

Meanwhile the Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) is almost absent; I had to venture off the beaten track quite a bit to see one. It’s got a lovelier flower, in my opinion, but obviously it lacks the aggressiveness of its “Bengalese” cousin.

Purple Vetch climbing up on last year’s Fennel stalks on the north edge of the park..

Similar Posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »