Vicia sativa (Common Vetch)

Plant Info
Also known as: Spring Vetch, Garden Vetch
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:annual
  • Weedy
Habitat:part shade, sun; fields, meadows, waste areas, roadsides, gardens
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular

[photo of flowers] 1 or 2 short-stalked pea-shaped flowers in the upper leaf axils. Flowers are 3/8 to 1+ inch long, pink to purple (rarely white), the upper petal (standard) is broad, flaring up and notched in the center, the two lateral wings below it are oval shaped and often darker colored than the standard; they flank and obscure the lower keel underneath. The calyx holding the flower is usually minutely hairy with prong-like teeth about as long as the tube (see fruit photo below).

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound with 4 to 8 pairs of leaflets and a branched tendril at the tip that clasps surrounding vegetation for support. Leaflets are variable in shape, oblong-elliptic to lance-linear, ¾ to 1¼ inches long, 1/6 to 1/3 inch wide, sparsely hairy on the underside, often flattened or indented at the tip with a small, spine-like projection. A pair of leafy appendages (stipules) at the base of the compound leaf stalk are small and somewhat variable, with 2 or 3 pointed lobes, often with a small dark gland. Stems are angled, branched, ascending or climbing, and hairy to varying degrees, sometimes minutely so. 

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of friut] Fruit is a flattened pea pod up to 2 inches long, producing 4 to 12 round beans. Pods ripen to light brown to black.


Considered a crop and garden weed, Common Vetch has also been used as a green manure crop and for forage. It escaped cultivation, as many introduced species are wont to do. Ants seem to have a particular fondness for this plant, as it is common to find them nectaring at the gland on the stipule. While the leaves resemble a number of other vining members of the pea family, particularly American Vetch (Vicia americana), Common Vetch is distinguished from the rest by the short-stalked flowers and fruits single or in pairs in the leaf axils.

There are 2 subspecies, both of which may be found in Minnesota: subsp. nigra (formerly Vicia angustifolia or V. sativa var. angustifolia) flowers are usually less than ¾-inch long with a proportionately small calyx, pods ripen to black, and leaflets are narrow (1.5 to 6 mm wide) and more linear in shape, where subsp. sativa flowers are at least ¾ inch long with a proportionately larger calyx, leaflets are proportionately broader (4 to 10 mm wide) and more elliptic, and pods ripen to brown. Note that the leaflet shape can be variable even on a single plant, so sample both upper and lower leaves as well as multiple plants within a population. Distribution of the two within the state is unclear, but the majority of herbarium records are currently identified as V. angustifolia.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Dave - Mille Lacs Co.
on: 2014-07-07 21:34:19

We have a lot of this on our property

Posted by: Diana C - Hennepin County
on: 2018-06-01 14:56:37

This has planted itself on my front slope amidst all sorts of perennials - and a creeping juniper. Third year for it. I’m at it, but not daily.

Posted by: Rick A. - Crow Wing county
on: 2018-06-11 16:38:11

I have this growing sporadically around the perimeter of my yard, not so much as to be a pest. Kind of an interesting plant and Blossoms are fairly attractive.

Posted by: Dottie Jones
on: 2021-03-26 12:02:51

these weeds are all over my front attractive watching the little bean pods grow a d crack question is are this food for the birds?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-03-27 08:03:15

Dottie, just about anything is potentially food for birds (or pollinators), but there are much better alternatives than this. Pick a native species.

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