Vicia sepium

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Name: Vicia sepium L.

Family: Fabaceae (the Pea or Legume family)

Vicia_sepium1Common Names:  Bush Vetch, Hedge Vetch (2, 6)

Etymology: Vicia is derived from the Latin vetch, which is also a common name for this genus; sepium comes from the Latin sepes, meaning ‘hedge’ (7). 

Botanical synonyms: Vicia basilei Sennen & Mauricio (9)

Quick Notable Features:
¬ Perennial vine up to 1 m long with forked tendrils at leaf tips
¬ Corolla dark blue-pink, with purple (or purple stripes), occasionally white
¬ Pinnately compound leaves
¬ Fruit a legume borne on a stalk (stipitate) (12)

Plant Height: Up to 1 m long (12), climbing to 0.6m high (17). 

Subspecies/varieties recognized (4, 14):
Vicia sepium var. montana W.D.J. Koch
Vicia sepium var. eriocalyx Celak
Vicia sepium var. hartii Akeroyd

Most Likely Confused with: V. sativa, V. hirsuta, V. villosa, V. cracca, and species of Lathyrus. 

vicia_sepium_a3eHabitat Preference: Hedges, thickets, roadsides, and grassy areas. V. sepium prefers neutral to alkaline soils (8, 12).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: Keweenaw County of the Upper Peninsula, and St. Claire and Wayne Counties of the Lower Peninsula (6).

Known Elevational Distribution: V. sepium prefers elevations around 1,100 m (11).

Complete Geographic Distribution: Introduced in northeastern North America, originally from Europe.  North American populations include Greenland, Canada (Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick (Newfoundland), and the United States (Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). Eastern hemisphere populations can be found throughout Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, Pakistan and Kashmir (4, 6, 13).

vicia_sepium_3f7Vegetative Plant Description: Herbaceous climbing vine with alternate, pinnately compound leaves. Each leaf bears 4-8 pairs of leaflets and has branched tendrils at the tip of the leaf, replacing any terminal leaflets. The leaflets are emarginate or ovate, with an acute or mucronate tip. Stipules are small and coarsely toothed. Pulvini are present at the petiole base. The plant has nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots (5, 12, 17). 

Flower Description: The blue-purple or occasionally white flowers are 8-15 mm long and grow in sessile or almost sessile inflorescences of 2-6 flowers. Each pedicel is slightly longer than the inflorescence peduncle. The fused calyx is irregular and forms a glabrous or villous tube 4-5mm long, with the two upper sepals distinctly shorter than the lower three. The calyx is deeper in color than the zygomorphic corolla, which is also 5-parted. The lower two petals form a keel, and the wings of the corolla adhere to the middle of the keel. The style is filiform and hairy, and the stamens are more or less diadelphous (5, 6, 17).

Vicia.sepiumFlowering Time: June – September (12)

Pollinator: A study from Scotland that included V. sepium indicated that certain bees choose plants with corollas longer than the bees’ tongues for nectar (1).  Two bumblebees, Bombus pasuorum and B. sylvarum have been suggested as pollinators, as well as Autographa gamma, a moth (15).

Vicia.sepium3Fruit Type and Description: The fruit is a black stipitate legume, linear with a long beak (representing the remnant style base), 1.8-3.0 cm long, 0.7 cm wide (12).

Seed Description: Seeds are glabrous, 3-4 mm in diameter, usually 4-7 per fruit (12). 

Dispersal Syndrome: None found in the literature.

Distinguished by: V. sepium can be distinguished from V. cracca, and V. villosa by its sessile or nearly sessile inflorescences. V. cracca and villosa have long peduncles. Additionally, V. cracca has a very symmetrical calyx quite different than the irregular calyx of V. sepium, and V. villosa has 10+ flowers per raceme, unlike the 2-6 flowers of the inflorescences of V. sepium.
While V. sativa has similar inflorescences to V. sepium, the calyx of V. sativa is regular. V. hirsuta has distinctly peduncled inflorescences (6, 17).
V. sepium can be most accurately distinguished from members of the genus Lathyrus by its styles and stamen-tubes. The styles of Vicia are pubescent or villous at the apex; those of Lathyrus are pubescent or villous along the entire upper side of the style.  Additionally, the stamen tubes of all Vicia members “terminate obliquely” whereas those of Lathyrus are truncate. A final character that may possibly distinguish Vicia from Lathyrus is the stems – Lathyrus members often have winged stems, unlike V. sepium (6, 17). 

vise_002_lhpOther members of the family in Michigan: 97 species in 34 genera. Genera Cercis (1), Crotalaria (1), Melilotus (3), Trifolium (10), Medicago (3), Cytisus (1), Baptisia (3), Amphicarpaea (1), Phaseolus (2), Strophostyles (1), Desmodium (12), Psoralea (1), Lespedeza (8), Glycine (1), Caragana (1), Gymnocladus (1), Gleditsia (1), Wisteria (2), Amorpha (2), Robinia (3), Schrankia (1), Lupinus (3), Cassia (4), Pisum (1), Lathyrus (10), Vicia (9), Dalea (2), Anthyllis (1), Lotus (1), Coronilla (1), Apios (1), Tephrosia (1), Astragalus (3), and Hedysarum (1). [6]

Ethnobotanical Uses: The seed can be cooked and eaten (8).

FABAViciasepiumMAPPhylogenetic Information: V. sepium is a member of the subfamily Faboideae within the family Fabaceae. Fabaceae, along with the Polygalaceae, Quillajaceae, and Surianaceae form the Fabales order.  The Fabales, Rosales, Cucurbitales, and Fagales form a monophyletic clade within the Eurosids I within the larger Rosid group of the Eudicot angiosperms (16).

Interesting Quotation or Other Interesting Factoid not inserted above: The elevational distribution of this species has changed since 1905. Optimum elevation currently is about 1,100 m, whereas in 1905 it was closer to 1,000 m (11).
Voss (6) mentions only two collections made in Michigan, one from 1915 in Detroit, and the second from Isle Royale in 1959. 

Literature and websites used:

  1. Brian, A.D. Differences in the Flowers Visited by Four Species of Bumble-Bees and Their Causes. 1957. Journal of Animal Ecology 26(1): 71-98.
  2. Skye flora.
  3. USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network – (GRIN). National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland.  URL:
  4. eFloras: Flora of Pakistan. Vicia sepium.
  5. Zomlefer, W.B. 1994. Guide to Flowering Plant Families. The University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill and London.
  6. Voss, E.G. 1985. Michigan Flora. Volume 2. Regents of the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI
  7. Brown, R.W. 1956. The Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D. C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  8. Plants For A Future, 1996-2008.
  9. International Legume Database and Information Service, 2008. Last modified: 2008. Vicia Sepium.
  10. ITIS: Integrated Taxonomic Information System  Retrieved from the Integrated Taxonomic Information System on-line database.
  11. Lenoir, J., J.C. Gegout, P.A. Marquet, P. de Ruffray and H.A. Brisse. 2008. Significant upward shift in plant species optimum elevation during the 20th Century. Science 320(5884): 1768-1771.
  12. Fernald, M. L. and A. Gray. 1950. Gray’s Manual of Botany: a handbook of the flowering plants and ferns of the central and northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. 8th ed. Portland, Oregon, Dioscorides Press, 1632p.
  13. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Center
  14. The International Plant Names Index (2008). Published on the Internet [accessed 3 September 2009].
  15. Lindsey. J. The Ecology of Commanster: Ecological Relationships Among More Than 3200 Species, accessed September 5, 2009, at
  16. ANGIOSPERM PHYLOGENY GROUP 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II. Botanical Journal of the Linnaean Society 141(4): 399-436.
  17. Gleason, H.A. 1963. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. New York, New York, USA: Hafner Publishing Co., Inc. 

Image Credits (all used with permission):
1) The image of flowers with deep purple lines was taken by J.F. Gaffard (Montboillon, France) and downloaded from
2) Close-up of leaflets by John Crellin on May 26, 2005 in the Bantry Abbey Graveyard, Ireland.
3) Flowers and leaves image taken by John Crellin on May 23, 2004. Mendip Hills, Somerset. Black Rock.
4) Image of flower inflorescence close-up downloaded from © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 J.K. Lindsey
5) Image of fruit close-up downloaded from © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 J.K. Lindsey
6) Close-up of seeds by Steve Hurst, from the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
7) Species distribution map, derived from the Michigan Flora Online.

Primary Authors: Chelsea Leser, with additions and editing by John Bradtke, Robyn J. Burnham, and ReBecca Sonday

© Robyn J. Burnham, University of Michigan

For additional information on Michigan Plant Diversity web pages please contact Robyn J. Burnham via email: rburnham“at”