Also known as purple vetch, American deer vetch, and stiff-leaf vetch, this perennial vine is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, that also includes lupine, mimosa and black locust. It is native to North America from Alaska to Ontario and New York, south to Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona and can be found growing in a variety of habitats from swampy woods and mixed forests to chaparral and badlands. Plants have a deeply branched taproot up to 40″ long, rhizomes, and a climbing stem that grows up to 4′ tall. The pinnately compound leaves have 8 to 18 oblong leaflets up to 1.5″ long and have tendrils for climbing. In summer up to 10 purple flowers appear in racemes. Each pea-like flower is up to 1.5″ long and has a backwards curving banner petal and four smaller inner petals. The fruit is a flat pod 1-1.5″ long and bears two to several seeds. American vetch is valuable source of food for both domestic and wild animals. In addition, it is especially valuable as a cover crop because it adds nitrogen to the soil, and can be useful in restoration projects. The genus name, Vicia, is the ancient Roman name of the plant. The specific epithet, americana, refers to the geographic range of the plant.
Type: Perennial vine
Bloom: Racemes of purple pea-like flowers in summer
Size: 4′ H x 4′ W
Soil: Average, moist to dry. neutral to slightly acidic; tolerates drought.
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Care: Low maintenance
Pests and Diseases: Botrytis, bruchid injury
Propagation: Seed, division
Companion Plants: Tall grasses such as rye
Photo Credit: Jennifer McNew BLM Wikimedia