Winter Vetch

Common name: Winter Vetch

Scientific name: Vicia villosa
Family: Fabaceae (pea)
Habitat: grassland (often disturbed)
Size: Plants are long and viney, growing up to a few feet long; each flower is 1 to 1.5 cm long, the clusters have 10-30 flowers.

Fun facts: This plant is not native. Ranchers often scatter seeds of this plant in their pastures because it is good forage (feed) for their livestock. It has escaped from pastures to many grasslands.

Description: Member of the pea family. Each pea flower is made up of five unusually shaped petals. The top petal is the banner petal. The two side petals are alike and are called the wing petals. The lower two petals are joined together and are called the keel petal.

Winter Vetch has large flower clusters, each with about 20 purple flowers. Sometimes the flowers are pink or white. The other vetch species which occur at Mather Field have only one or two flowers in each cluster.

Life cycle: Winter Vetch is an annual. It germinates with the fall rains but does not grow very much until the temperatures warm up in the spring. Then it grows very fast and produces lots of flower clusters. Winter Vetch begins to bloom in March and may continue to grow and bloom into late May.

Ecology: Winter Vetch, like most pea flowers, produces lots of nectar. Bees and other insects visit the flowers. Honey made from Winter Vetch is similar to that made from clover and is nutritious and tasty.

Where in the vernal pool grassland do you see vetch growing? What are some reasons it might prefer to grow there?