Vicia villosa (Hairy Vetch)

Plant Info
Also known as: Winter Vetch
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:annual, short-lived perennial
  • Weedy
Habitat:sun; sandy soil; disturbed soil, fields, roadsides
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] One-sided raceme of 5 to 20 pairs of drooping, elongated pea-shaped flowers. Flowers are ½ to ¾ inch long, the upper petal (standard) flaring upward, lateral wings below it oval, extending outward, as long as the standard is high. The standard is typically pink to deep purple with lighter colored lateral wings though sometimes all flowers in a cluster are all white.

[photo of calyx and stem] The calyx holding the flower is swollen at the base and covered in spreading hairs, with 5 prong-like lobes, the upper lobes narrowly triangular and shorter than the calyx tube, the lower lobes longer than the upper and often longer than the tube. Flower stalks are covered in spreading hairs.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound with 8 to 12 pairs of leaflets, and a branched tendril at the end that entwines surrounding vegetation for support. Leaves can be up to 10 inches long and 2 inches wide but 6 inches or less is typical. Leaflets are about 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide, toothless, hairy, generally elliptical.

[photo of stipule and stem] At the base of the leaf stalk is a pair of narrow, leafy appendages (stipules) that are ¼ to 1/3 inch long and densely hairy. Stems are vining, multi-branched and sprawling, with distinct ridges and covered in spreading hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a flattened pea pod up to 2 inches long, containing several round seeds.


A historical forage introduction, this aggressive legume has spread widely in east central Minnesota and is a common purple flower in the landscape along roadsides and fields, forming dense mats of tangled stems. Walking through a patch of it can be like trudging through a jungle. As with any flower it has some aesthetic value but for the human mind only, it is of marginal forage need to larger herbivores and provides poor wildlife habitat with little or no insect productivity while spreading in higher grade native habitats, particularly in restoration areas. It is likely highly under reported in Minnesota. A similar species is Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca), which is most easily distinguished by the minute hairs rather than spreading hairs of Hairy Vetch, plus it has slightly smaller flowers. Tufted Vetch is also a perennial where Hairy Vetch is mostly an annual. There are 4 recognized subspecies of V. villosa, 2 of which have been found in Minnesota, both weedy.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at numerous locations in Anoka County.


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

Posted by: Lexi - Sherburne County
on: 2011-06-23 14:02:58

I found this in my yard, growing in the shade. It was actually growing on top of some plants, sort of like ivy. It was really cool.

Posted by: Denise - Chisago County, Stacy
on: 2011-07-24 11:19:35

Again, everyone thinks these are so pretty, but what a pest they end up becoming. I weed them out before the legumes are formed and dispense with them, too. I've watched over the years, and they don't appear to smother any plants, but can get very entangled and could probably do more damage. So, I just keep weeding them out, too.

Posted by: Camille - alexandria
on: 2012-04-23 09:02:55

I have them growing in my grove of trees - I replanted them by y pond - opps wrong thing to do - spindley

Posted by: NMontgomery - Richfield via Zimmerman
on: 2014-06-15 18:17:36

I dug this plant from a pasture in Zimmerman and brought it back to my home in Richfield. I was initially concerned about the manner which it spreads, but I have given this purple beauty areas to climb. So far, I think it will be fine. All of my gardening friends agreed that this should only be added if it has an area to climb off thr ground. I will spread this plant along my front porch, hoping it continues to wrap the spindles and provide beauty.

Posted by: Angie - Battle Creek St Paul
on: 2019-06-07 18:53:34

I know the general idea is that invasive plants just draw a native species however this plant growing on my weedy hillside attract more bees than any other plans I have ever had, so I need more instruction on why it’s so important to remove it…

Posted by: luciearl - Crow Wing county
on: 2019-06-24 10:32:11

I'm pretty sure this is what I was seeing along the Paul Bunyan Trail north of Brainerd.

Posted by: Amanda - Shakopee
on: 2019-07-09 16:19:49

Found these on the side of the road. this plant is stunning in full bloom! Wondering if i could and should get it to grow up my large tree trunk. I dont want to plant anything "invasive" in a bad way. I want to attract more pollinators too. Thoughts?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-07-09 17:00:17

Amanda, hairy vetch is an exotic species that will expand and create dense mats that can smother other plants. Better to plant natives, most of which are pollinator-friendly and/or hosts for butterflies. If you need help with gardening ideas for pollinators check out Wild Ones, which has several chapters in MN.

Posted by: David G - Shoreview - Rice Creek North Trail
on: 2020-06-03 19:31:17

I have been seeing this more and more along Rice Creek North Trail in NW Shoreview. It stretches several feet from its base and grows along the tops of the native prairie species. The county does manage this area with prescribed burns, but it doesn't appear to be reducing the populations.

Posted by: Brooke S - Perry Park in Arden Hills
on: 2021-06-10 23:00:25

I notices quite a bit of this growing in the dog park at Perry Park in arden hills

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