This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Tufted Vetch appears to-day (not earlier than the present epoch) in the Northern Temperate and Arctic Zones, in Arctic Europe, N. Africa, N. and W. Asia, India, and Greenland. It is ubiquitous in Great Britain, ranging as far north as the Shetlands, and in the Highlands it is found at altitudes of 2400 ft. It is a native of Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The common Vetch or Tare is a familiar feature of our hedgerows and lanes in the early summer, seeking the support of some stronger upright plant. It is associated with Bryony, Red Campion, Welted Thistle, various brambles, and other hedgerow bushes, scrambling over them profusely in wild disorder.
The Tufted Vetch has the climbing habit. The plant is downy or silky. The rootstock is creeping. The stem is angled, spreading. The leaves are stalkless, pinnate, with leaflets each side of a common stalk. The leaflets are linear, oblong or lance-shaped, acute, or with a blunt point, in 10 pairs, silky. The stipules are half arrow-shaped, entire or nearly so. The tendrils are branched.
The flowers are 10-30, in dense racemes arranged one side of the stalk, blue or purple. The flower-stalk is longer than the leaves. The ultimate stalks are short. The flowers are drooping. The tube of the calyx is short, swollen below, the teeth shorter than the tube, the upper pair very small, the others awl-like. The standard is wavy at the side, the limb short. The style is equally downy all round at the top, the hairs longer below the stalked stigma.
The pods are not bearded, linear to oblong, smooth, obliquely blunt, beaked, many-seeded. The seeds are nearly round, black. The hilum is linear and extends half-way round the seed.
The plant is 3-6 ft. high. The flowers are in bloom during June, July, and August. The plant is perennial.
The flowers are numerous, brilliant in colour, and conspicuous. The anthers ripen before the stigma. The short style is 11/2 mm. long, and below the stigma clothed with long upwardly-directed hairs, which are longer and closer on the outer than on the inner side, and form a brush. The anthers lie close to the brush and pollen falls from them on the latter at an early stage, when the stigma is at a lower level than the hairs, included in the pouch formed by the flat top of the keel, when the latter is depressed projecting from the narrow slit at its extremity. The alae serve as levers for insects to depress the keel, and they are united in two places with the edge of the keel. In the middle of the upper border there is a deep fold in each ala fitting into a corresponding hollow in the keel, which lies in front of the pollen cavity. The wing bulges in and forms a depression behind this fold which fits into a second cavity in the keel, and the two fit very closely, the cells interlocking, in a similar manner to the above structures.
Photo. Matson - Tufted Vetch (vicia Cracca, L.)
The return of the wings and keel to their former position after an insect visit is ensured by their elasticity, by aid of processes on the alae that clasp the staminal column, and others on the carina that serve the same purpose, and by the broad base of the standard, which curves laterally to clasp the claws of the alae and the carina, the calyx holding the standard in position. The flower is visited again and again by insects which gradually remove the pollen, and the stigma becomes sticky receiving pollen from other Mowers. In spite of the close fitting of the parts, the honey in the flowers is easily reached by bees, as the flowers are small.
The visitors are Apidae, Vespidae, Diptera (Empidae), Lepidoptera, Small White (Pieris rapce).
The woody fibres of the pods are directed at half a right angle to the axis of the pod, and when ripe the valves curl up corkscrew-wise, when dry, shooting the seeds out in all directions.
Tufted Vetch is addicted to a more or less sandy humus soil, or sandy loam, growing on a great variety of rock soils from the early Cambrian to Pleistocene or Glacial beds.
The " rust", Uromvces fabce, attacks this plant, also U. pisi and Ascochyta pisi, and it is galled by a beetle, Apion gyllenhalli, and visited by Apion craccce and Crepidodera rufipes, the moth New Black Neck (Toxocampa craccce), and the Heteropterous insect Strongylocoris leucocephalus.
Vicia, Varro, is from a Latin root meaning to bind, from the tendrils. Vetch is the same as Pitch. Cracca, Dodonaeus, is said to be from a Greek root meaning croak.
Tufted Vetch is called Blue Tar-fitch, Cat-peas, Cow Vetch, Wild Fetches, Huggaback Pea, Tar Grass, Wild Tare, Thetch Grass, Tine, Tine Grass, Tare, Tine Weed.
There is a proverb:
" A thetch will go through The bottom of an old shoe."
Essential Specific Characters: 89. Vicia Cracca, L. - Stem climbing, tall, with branched tendrils, leaflets in 10 pairs, narrow, acute, downy, stipules semi-sagittate, entire; flower-stalks long, lateral, flowers numerous, purple, 10-30 in raceme.