Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vetch in Bloom

From March through August many roadsides, unplowed fields, and open idle lands are covered by a fast-growing, thick, knee-high vine covered with reddish-purple flowers. The vine is vetch, a member of one of the important bee plant families, the legumes. Other legumes include the clovers, beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans, locust trees, redbud, and mimosa. The long tassels of Vetch flowers are worked readily by honeybees. With such a long blossom it is not uncommon for honey bees to reach the nectar from the back or side of the flower. For such flowers with long blossoms, the honey bees often rely on leaf cutter bees to chew a hole in the base of the flower to expose the nectar. Vetch also has a well-developed nectary outside the flower that becomes functional about two weeks before the flowers open. Vetch honey is similar in color to clover honey, but it has a somewhat stronger flavor.

While Vetch may be a true friend to the beekeeper, here in the Arkansas Delta it is often considered a weed to grain farmers and to those who tend to the highways. The seed of Vetch is a pea the same size as a grain of wheat. This makes vetch seed very difficult to mechanically remove from wheat. Vetch grows so rapidly and makes such a thick mass of vegetation that it is difficult to mow from highway shoulders. Like many legumes, vetch helps return nitrogen to the soil. In this capacity it makes a useful cover crop for idle lands.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad to see this, although it's been a couple of years since you posted this. I live in northern Illinois, but I was a child, we had some vetch honey from a beekeeper near Powhatan, Arkansas. (This was when we were visiting my grandparents who lived in Hoxie)

    It tasted wonderful, but that was 40+ years ago. Now and then, I've tried to find vetch honey, but most of it you find on shelves these days or even in gift shops seems to be clover. I'd love to get a jar of it for my mother, who is 87. She and my late father were Arkansas born and bred. I still get down there as often as possible to crappie fish.