Cow vetch

Prepared by Jennifer L. D’Appollonio, Assistant Scientist, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469. Updated April 2019.

Scientific name: Vicia cracca L.

Common name(s): cow vetch, bird vetch, tufted vetch, boreal vetch

Link(s): USDA PLANTS Profile, Go Botany

Images: (to see enlargements [PC]: click on image, then right click and choose “view image”)



-Flowers July-August on one side of inflorescence.

-Small hairs cover a slender trailing stem 2′-4′ long.

-Eight to 24 narrow, leaflets are 3/4″-1″ long and 1/8″ wide with a pair of tendrils at each leaf’s end.

-leaves are

  • compound
  • alternate
  • entire

-Violet flowers are 1/2″ long, seed pods 3/4″-1″ long and 1/4″ wide producing five to eight seeds.

-fixes nitrogen

-may be confused with V. villosa; see left sidebar of Go Botany webpage


-disturbed areas



-full-part sun



Go Botany. “Vicia Cracca L.” Vicia Cracca (Bird Vetch, Cow Vetch): Go Botany, 2020,