Tufted vetch, also know as cow vetch or bird vetch, is a striking, purple wildflower that looks not unlike a tiny sweet pea. The Latin name is vicia cracca and it grows happily on the edges of woodland, up banks, along scrubland and in amongst grassland – making it a very versatile wildflower.
The tufted vetch is a British native species of wildflower which has violet blue, tube-shaped flowers and long, greyish green leaves. It is a member of the clover and pea family of plants, and the flowers, which grow in rows up one side of the stem, are delicate and attractive.
The flowering season is quite lengthy and lasts from June to August, after which time, pods are produced with eight to 10 tiny seeds in each. As the seed pods ripen, they turn dark brown to black.
The vicia cracca climbs and leans against other plants in order to reach the sunlight, and it produces tendrils at the end of its leaves to help with this. The tendrils wrap themselves around any stems or grasses nearby and it pulls itself to where it needs to be.
This plant can grow up to two feet tall and will scramble over fences and hedges. It prefers fertile, moist soil conditions but will adapt to most areas, and is quite commonly found in most parts of the UK.
The many uses of tufted vetch
The bright purple flowers are often heavy with pollen so they attract bees of different species. Tufted vetch is on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list, and plants on this list are visited by flies and butterflies alike. To create an area that’s a haven for pollinating wildlife, a Meadowmat containing this plant is an ideal solution.
The tufted vetch is a useful wildflower. The seeds can be eaten by humans if boiled or roasted and the leaves are used as a tea alternative. Pet birds, such as budgies, can be fed the seeds as a nutritional snack too.
This tiny plant is also beneficial to the soil because it turns nitrogen, which it takes from the air, into nitrogen oxide. This enriches the earth and makes it more fertile.
Vicia cracca is also good at preventing soil erosion as its roots hold the earth in place and stop it from being worn or washed away. This little plant is also used as a green manure when turned over and left as a natural mulch in ploughed fields.