vetch, common name for many weak-stemmed, leguminous herbs of the genus Vicia of the family Leguminosae (pulse family). The vetches are chiefly annuals, distributed over temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and of South America. Most of the species cultivated for food and forage are Old World in origin. The common vetch ( V. sativa ), also called spring vetch, is a purple- or pink-flowered climber native to Europe, where it is grown for fodder. It is extensively grown on the Pacific coast and in other sections of the United States for green fodder and hay and as a cover and green-manure crop. The hairy vetch ( V. villosa ), used almost as widely, is a hardy biennial with narrower, silvery leaves and blue flowers. Valued as an enricher of the nitrogen content of soil, it grows almost anywhere in the United States and is considered the best legume to plant where red clover does not thrive. It is also known as sand, Siberian, Russian, and winter vetch. Vetch seed is often inoculated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria when grown in soil of low fertility. In areas of grain cultivation vetches sometimes escape into grainfields and become weedy pests. In Europe the principal cultivated species of Vicia is the broad bean ( V. faba ), the only edible bean native to the Old World. Tare is a common name sometimes used as a synonym for any vetch, most frequently for the common vetch. Vetches are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.
See bulletins of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.