Cow vetch and hairy vetch (Vicia cracca, Vicia villosa)


Appearance: Annual or short-lived perennial herbaceous plants. Their weak stems grow 2 - 3' high and clamber over other vegetation, smothering it. The stem of hairy vetch has spreading hairs.

Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compound (leaflets on both sides of a common stalk); 8 -12 pairs of narrow oval-shaped opposite leaflets.

Flowers: Violet-blue on cow vetch and blue and white on hairy vetch. They are clustered on one-sided spikes and bloom from May to August.

Seeds: Seeds are contained in numerous inch long pods. Pods of cow vetch are brownish lance-shaped and flat; pods of hairy vetch are gray to black and hairy.

Roots: Both plants have a 1- 3' long taproot.

Ecological Threat:

  • Both vetches are not a threat to healthy native prairies at this time, but can be a problem in prairie reconstructions and on disturbed sites.
  • They grow best on the dry sandy soils of disturbed fields and thickets.
  • Both vetches have naturalized in the U.S. and are grown for forage, green fertilizer or cover crop. They occur throughout the eastern and midwestern states extending into southern Canada.


Control Methods:


  • Pulling small infestations before seeds develop, to free native plants


  • Spray with selective herbicide such as clopyralid


Native Substitutes:

Additional Resources