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Wood Vetch

Vicia sylvatica

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Fabaceae (Pea)
Also in this family:
Alpine Milk-vetch, Alsike Clover, Birdsfoot, Birdsfoot Clover, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Bithynian Vetch, Bitter Vetch, Black Broom, Black Medick, Bladder Senna, Broad Bean, Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea, Bur Medick, Burrowing Clover, Bush Vetch, Clustered Clover, Common Broom, Common Gorse, Common Laburnum, Common Restharrow, Common Vetch, Crimson Clover, Crown Vetch, Dragon's Teeth, Dwarf Gorse, Dyer's Greenweed, False Acacia, Fine-leaved Vetch, Fodder Vetch, Garden Lupin, Garden Pea, Goat's Rue, Grass Vetchling, Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Greenweed, Hairy Tare, Hairy Vetchling, Hairy-fruited Broom, Haresfoot Clover, Hop Trefoil, Horseshoe Vetch, Hungarian Vetch, Kidney Vetch, Knotted Clover, Large Trefoil, Lesser Trefoil, Lucerne, Marsh Pea, Meadow Vetchling, Narrow-leaved Bird's-foot Trefoil, Narrow-leaved Everlasting Pea, Narrow-leaved Vetch, Nootka Lupin, Norfolk Everlasting Pea, Orange Birdsfoot, Petty Whin, Purple Milk-vetch, Purple Oxytropis, Red Clover, Reversed Clover, Ribbed Melilot, Rough Clover, Russell Lupin, Sainfoin, Scorpion Senna, Scottish Laburnum, Sea Clover, Sea Pea, Sickle Medick, Slender Bird's-foot Trefoil, Slender Tare, Slender Trefoil, Small Melilot, Small Restharrow, Smooth Tare, Spanish Broom, Spanish Gorse, Spiny Restharrow, Spotted Medick, Spring Vetch, Strawberry Clover, Suffocated Clover, Sulphur Clover, Tall Melilot, Toothed Medick, Tree Lupin, Tuberous Pea, Tufted Vetch, Twin-headed Clover, Two-flowered Everlasting Pea, Upright Clover, Upright Vetch, Western Clover, Western Gorse, White Broom, White Clover, White Lupin, White Melilot, Wild Liquorice, Yellow Oxytropis, Yellow Vetch, Yellow Vetchling, Zigzag Clover
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Cliffs, floodplains, gardens, grassland, heathland, hedgerows, meadows, mountains, parks, riverbanks, riversides, roadsides, rocky places, scrub, sea cliffs, seaside, wasteland, waterside, woodland.

White, 5 petals
The flowers of Wood Vetch exhibit a charming purplish-pink hue. These blossoms are arranged in dense clusters, creating a visually striking and vibrant display. The petals are delicate and may have a slightly asymmetrical shape, contributing to the overall allure of the plant. The flowers typically bloom in late spring to early summer, adding a touch of natural beauty to woodlands, meadows, and other habitats across the UK. The floral arrangement, combined with the plant's climbing or sprawling growth habit, makes Wood Vetch an aesthetically pleasing and ecologically valuable presence in British landscapes. Pollinated by insects.
The fruit of Wood Vetch is in the form of slender seed pods. These pods develop after the flowering stage and contain seeds within. The elongated pods exhibit a cylindrical shape, and they undergo a process known as explosive dehiscence, where they burst open to release the seeds. This mechanism aids in the dispersal of seeds, allowing the plant to propagate and establish new growth. The seeds are an essential part of the plant's reproductive strategy, contributing to its life cycle and ensuring the continuation of Wood Vetch in the diverse ecosystems it inhabits across the UK.
The leaves of Wood Vetch are compound and pinnate in structure. Comprising several small leaflets arranged along a central stalk, these leaves form an intricate pattern. The leaflets are generally elongated and may have a lanceolate or oblong shape, contributing to the overall feathery appearance of the foliage. The compound leaves are alternately arranged along the stems of the plant. This leaf structure not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of Wood Vetch but also serves functional roles in photosynthesis and nutrient absorption. The leaves play a crucial part in the plant's adaptation to its woodland, meadow, and other natural habitats in the UK.
Wood Vetch is not particularly known for having a strong or distinctive fragrance. Generally, the plant is valued more for its visual appeal, featuring attractive purplish-pink flowers, rather than for any notable scent. The lack of a prominent fragrance is a common characteristic among various vetch species. In woodland areas and meadows where Wood Vetch is commonly found, the focus tends to be on its visual impact and ecological roles rather than any olfactory experience. If there is a fragrance associated with Wood Vetch, it is likely to be subtle and not a prominent feature of the plant.
Other Names:
Wild Vetch.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Vicia sylvatica, also known as the wood vetch or wild vetch, is a species of flowering plant in the pea family (Fabaceae). It is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, and typically found in woodlands, hedgerows and shrublands. It is a perennial vine-like plant that can reach a height of up to 2 meters. The leaves are compound and alternately arranged on the stem. The flowers are small, usually pink or purple, and arranged in loose clusters. The plant is known for its nitrogen-fixing ability, which can improve soil fertility, and it is also a food source for wildlife, such as insects and small mammals. It is also used as forage for livestock, although it is not as widely cultivated as other vetch species.


Wood Vetch (Vicia sylvatica) is a beautiful and hardy plant that is native to Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. It is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) and is known for its delicate flowers and attractive foliage.

This plant is an excellent choice for gardeners who want to create a naturalistic or woodland-style garden. It is a climbing plant that can grow up to 2 meters tall and is often found growing on fences, walls, or along the edges of woods. The leaves of the Wood Vetch are dark green and have a distinctive shape, with a central lobe and two smaller lobes on either side.

In the spring and summer months, the Wood Vetch produces spikes of delicate, blue-purple or pink flowers that are very attractive to pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths. The flowers are followed by seed pods that are often used by wildlife for food.

Wood Vetch is a hardy and adaptable plant that is relatively easy to grow. It prefers moist, well-drained soils and a shady or semi-shaded position. It is a robust plant that is resistant to pests and diseases, although it can be affected by aphids and other sucking insects.

Overall, the Wood Vetch is a versatile and attractive plant that is well-suited to a variety of garden styles and can be used as a groundcover, climber, or as a focal point in a border. It is a great choice for gardeners who are looking for a plant that is easy to care for and that will provide interest throughout the growing season.

In addition to its ornamental value, Wood Vetch is also of great ecological significance. As a nitrogen-fixing plant, it contributes to soil fertility and can be used in agroforestry systems to improve soil quality. In the wild, it provides important habitat and food for a variety of wildlife species, including insects, birds, and small mammals.

The Wood Vetch is also a valuable forage crop for livestock, particularly in the spring when the tender shoots and leaves are high in protein and other nutrients. The seeds can also be used for human consumption, although they are not as widely consumed as other legume crops.

Despite its many benefits, Wood Vetch can also become invasive in some areas, especially in disturbed habitats. Gardeners should be careful not to plant it near natural areas or in places where it may escape and spread into the wild. If planting in an area with a risk of invasion, it is best to plant it in a container or to use a root barrier to prevent it from spreading.

The Wood Vetch is a versatile, attractive, and ecologically important plant that is well worth considering for any garden. With its beautiful flowers and hardy nature, it is a great choice for gardeners who want to create a naturalistic or woodland-style garden, or who are looking for a low-maintenance, nitrogen-fixing plant. Just be sure to plant it responsibly and monitor its growth to ensure that it does not become invasive.

The Wood Vetch is also a popular plant for use in green roofs and vertical gardens. Its ability to fix nitrogen and improve soil quality make it an excellent choice for sustainable landscaping, and its attractive flowers and foliage make it a valuable ornamental element.

It is also a popular choice for erosion control on slopes, banks, and other areas where soil stability is a concern. Its strong roots and climbing habit make it well-suited for stabilizing slopes and preventing erosion, and its ability to improve soil quality can help to promote the establishment of other vegetation.

In addition to its ornamental, ecological, and practical benefits, the Wood Vetch is also a valuable plant for education and research. It is a common subject in botany and ecology courses, and its use in agroforestry and sustainable landscaping makes it a valuable case study for students of environmental science and sustainability.

The Wood Vetch is a fascinating and valuable plant that has a long history of use in gardens, agriculture, and the wild. Whether you are a gardener, a land manager, or a student of botany or ecology, this plant is well worth exploring and incorporating into your landscape.

30 Facts Concerning Wood Vetch

  1. Scientific Name: Wood Vetch belongs to the genus Vicia, and its scientific name is Vicia sylvatica.

  2. Habitat: It is commonly found in woodlands, forests, and meadows, preferring areas with moist and rich soils.

  3. Appearance: Wood Vetch is a perennial herbaceous plant with compound leaves that consist of several leaflets.

  4. Flowers: The flowers of Wood Vetch are typically purplish-pink and form in dense clusters.

  5. Blooming Season: It blooms in late spring to early summer, adding a splash of color to its surroundings.

  6. Climbing Habit: This vetch often exhibits a climbing or sprawling growth habit, using other vegetation for support.

  7. Leguminous Plant: Like many vetch species, Wood Vetch is a legume, capable of fixing nitrogen in the soil.

  8. Wildlife Attraction: The flowers attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, contributing to local ecosystems.

  9. Seed Pods: After flowering, Wood Vetch produces slender seed pods containing seeds that are dispersed to propagate new plants.

  10. Foliage Characteristics: The compound leaves are pinnate, with small leaflets arranged along a central stalk.

  11. Adaptability: Wood Vetch is adaptable to a range of soil types but thrives in moist and well-drained soils.

  12. Medicinal Uses: Some traditional herbal practices use Wood Vetch for its potential medicinal properties, though caution is advised due to alkaloids in the plant.

  13. Nitrogen Fixation: As a leguminous plant, Wood Vetch contributes to soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable by plants.

  14. Role in Erosion Control: The sprawling nature of Wood Vetch can help control soil erosion on slopes and disturbed areas.

  15. Companion Planting: It is sometimes used in companion planting to enhance soil health and support the growth of neighboring plants.

  16. Folklore: In folklore, vetches are sometimes associated with various symbolic meanings, often linked to endurance and persistence.

  17. Growth Forms: Wood Vetch can exhibit both prostrate and climbing growth forms, depending on environmental conditions.

  18. Herbaceous Perennial: This plant returns year after year from its rootstock, remaining a consistent presence in its habitat.

  19. Root System: The root system of Wood Vetch is fibrous, aiding in soil stability and nutrient absorption.

  20. Conservation: While not typically considered rare, some regional populations of Wood Vetch may be of conservation concern due to habitat loss.

  21. Seed Dispersal: Seeds are dispersed through explosive dehiscence, where the pods burst open, propelling seeds away from the parent plant.

  22. Fertilizer Source: As a nitrogen-fixing plant, Wood Vetch contributes to the nitrogen content of the soil, benefiting nearby plants.

  23. Drought Tolerance: While it prefers moist conditions, Wood Vetch can exhibit a degree of drought tolerance once established.

  24. Allelopathic Effects: Some vetch species, including Wood Vetch, produce compounds with allelopathic effects that may inhibit the growth of certain competing plants.

  25. Garden Use: Wood Vetch can be grown in gardens, providing both ornamental value and potential benefits to neighboring plants.

  26. Cultural Significance: In some cultures, vetches may have historical or cultural significance, often tied to agricultural practices.

  27. Rhizobium Symbiosis: Wood Vetch forms symbiotic relationships with specific Rhizobium bacteria, enhancing its ability to fix nitrogen.

  28. Invasiveness: While not considered highly invasive, some vetch species, if not properly managed, can spread beyond desired areas.

  29. Leaf Arrangement: The compound leaves of Wood Vetch are arranged alternately along the stems.

  30. Environmental Indicator: The presence of Wood Vetch in an ecosystem may serve as an indicator of certain soil and environmental conditions.


Wood Vetch filmed at Dowdeswell Woods in Gloucestershire on the 30th June 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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