Crown vetch ground cover

Crown Vetch

Common Name: Crown Vetch
Scientific Name: Securigera varia (L.) Lassen, formerly Coronilla varia L.
Legal Status: Restricted

Propagation and sale of this plant are prohibited in Minnesota. Transportation is only allowed when in compliance with Minnesota Statute 18.82. Although Restricted Noxious Weeds are not required to be controlled or eradicated by law, landowners are strongly encouraged to manage these invasive plants on their properties in order to reduce spread into new areas. Minnesota Noxious Weed Law.

Background

Crown Vetch is native to central and Eastern Europe, and the Caucus region of Asia. It was introduced to the US as early as the mid-1800s, and by the 1950s became widely planted as a groundcover, cover crop, and bank and slope stabilizer along roads and waterways. It is now found across the continental U.S. and in most counties of Minnesota. In Minnesota, it has been planted as a cover crop and used for soil stabilization, but these uses are in decline due to the invasive nature of the plant.

Description

  • Crown vetch is an herbaceous perennial in the legume family. Its stems will grow to 2 – 6 feet long in a trailing, creeping growth pattern.
  • The leaves are dark green, pinnately compound, with 15 – 25 pairs of oblong leaflets.
  • Flowers are small umbels, pinkish-lavender to white, borne in clusters at the end of the leaf axils. Plants will bloom from May through August.
  • The fruit are 2 – 3 inches in length, flattened, finger-shaped pods borne in crown-like clusters, and contain many small seeds.
  • Roots are aggressive rhizomes, growing horizontally up to 10 feet and vegetatively producing new plants.
Flower, photo by Dan Tenaglia,
Missouriplants.com, Bugwood.org
Seedling, photo by Ohio State Weed Lab,
The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Seedpods, photo by James H. Miller,
USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Infestation, photo by John Cardina, The
Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Infestation, photo by James H. Miller,
USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Plant, photo by Jan Samanek, State
Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Habitat

Crown Vetch readily invades prairies, dunes, woodland edges, streambanks, pastures, rights-of-way, and roadsides. It prefers open and sunny habitats. It is tolerant of all different soil types, saline and alkaline soils, and drought conditions.

Means of spread and distribution

Crown vetch spreads through seeds and vegetatively through rhizomes. It can be introduced to new areas by moving soil infested with rhizome fragments. Its primary spread historically has been through intentional planting. Some research suggests that deer and other small animals move crown vetch seed to new areas.

Crown vetch is found in the majority of the counties of Minnesota.

Impact

Crown vetch overtakes and suppresses other vegetation, reducing species diversity and wildlife habitat. Due to its creeping growth habit, it can cover and shade out other plants and eventually form dense monocultures. Infestations, over time, can cover several acres of land.

Prevention and management

  • Once established, crown vetch is difficult to control. For all management options, infestation sites will need to be monitored for several years and treated repeatedly until the seedbanks are depleted.
  • Do not plant crown vetch. Find alternative cover crops or native plants that can be used for soil stabilization.
  • Mowing can be effective to slow the spread if done on schedule to prevent seed formation, and for successive years. For complete eradication, mowing will need to be performed in conjunction with another control method, like herbicide application.
  • Prescribed burning in late spring for several successive years is an effective control method. Make sure to contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to learn more about control burning practices and regulations.
  • Large infestations can be controlled by spot-spraying with foliar herbicide applications. If using herbicide treatments, check with your local University of Minnesota Extension Agent, co-op, or certified landscape care expert for assistance and recommendations. There are several businesses throughout the state with certified herbicide applicators that can be hired to perform chemical applications.

Toxicity

There are conflicting reports of crown vetch alternatively causing pasture bloat in livestock, and being safe for cattle to graze on.

Crown Vetch Seed – Food Plot Crop
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Crown Vetch For Food Plots

Crown Vetch is used in food plots as it makes excellent cover for quail and good grazing forage for deer. In fact deer love to graze on crown vetch which has crude protein and fiber content similar to other forage legumes. The mounded type growth pattern provides good ground cover for ground nesting birds, rabbits and other small mammals as well as providing forage for deer and elk. Deer are known to paw away a winter snow layer in order to get to the crown vetch to feed. Crown Vetch will shed seeds through the summer for quail and other game birds. Crown Vetch makes an excellent food plot for Deer, Quail, Dove, Turkey, Pheasant, and Rabbit..

There are three varieties of crown vetch available. They are Emerald, Penngift and Chemung. Seedland sells the more desirable Penngift variety which is pre-inoculated.

Crown Vetch Facts and Uses

Crown Vetch is a perennial, herbaceous legume although the name implies that it is a vetch. It is slow to establish and thus is usually planted with buckwheat, creeping red fescue or annual ryegrass as companion crops to provide initial cover. When Crown Vetch establishes it will spread quickly from it’s prolific rhizomes. Well adapted to most soils in the U.S., but not adapted to the Deep South, it will provide a permanent ground cover with good erosion control. As an erosion control plant, Crown vetch is well suited for hillside or slope erosion plantings in areas where mowing is difficult or impossible. Crown vetch provides an excellent, almost maintenance-free, ground cover for soil stabilization and slope beautification. Read more about crown vetch use as erosion control plants.

This creeping plant with semi-vine growth habit has nitrogen fixing capabilities for poor soils. Produces a ground cover that can grow to a height of 18-24 inches and appears to look a little like clover. It is very competitive and will crowd out most weeds. It has an extensive root system making it fairly drought tolerant and hard to eliminate from fields etc. It is also used for wildlife foraging (Deer, etc.).

Crown Vetch produces attractive flowers during the seasonal blooming period. It blooms in various colors of white-pink to purple-pink color. Crown Vetch is primarily used in North Eastern areas of the USA states.

Crown Vetch Is An Invasive Plant Species

Due to it’s aggressive and creeping type of growth, crown vetch is considered to be an invasive plant. Crown Vetch has rhizomes that can grow up to ten feet long from a single plant within one year. One crown vetch plant can cover an area of 75 to 100 feet within 3 to 4 years. Crown vetch can be a serious management threat to natural areas due to rapid vegetative spreading by creeping roots. Crown Vetch can be considered non-invasive if properly maintained by mowing, tilling or the use of herbicides to control growth areas. Flowers will appear from May to August and produce seeds that can remain dormant and viable for over fifteen years.

Use caution when considering an area to be planted with crown vetch. Because of its invasive nature, if not properly maintained, you should not plant near areas where other grasses or crops will be grown. Crown Vetch is a beneficial plant when used in the right areas. Besides use as a food plot crop, crown vetch is planted in cool, humid regions on steep hillsides or slopes for erosion control where mowing may be impractical or impossible. Like many plants, when used in the wrong area crown vetch can be harmful and invasive. For more information on the invasive properties of crown vetch see this article from IPSAWG (PDF document).

We advise that you consult with your local Cooperative Extension agent on the advisability of using this plant for your particular location. We have provided a list of extension agents at: www.turfhelp.com/info/extension.html. If you are unfamiliar with this plant do not plant before consulting with an agricultural expert.

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Planting & Growing Crown Vetch

It is recommended that crown vetch seed, as is the case with other legumes, is inoculated before planting. The variety of Crown Vetch seed, Penngift, sold by Seedland is pre-inoculated. Also lime may need to be applied to soil in the area before planting as crown vetch prefers a soil pH of 5.5 – 7.0.

Type: Perennial legume
Soils: Grows well on acidic, infertile soils. Prefers a pH of 5.5-7.0. It is NOT recommended for wet, poorly drained soils. Crown Vetch like many legumes, is a nitrogen “fixer” for soils lacking in nitrogen.

Establishment: Crown Vetch is a slow establisher. Because of its slow establishment, it is usually seeded in combination with buckwheat, ryegrass or creeping red fescue. These companion crops will provide faster cover and erosion control until the Crown Vetch fills in. Full establishment of crown vetch generally takes about 2 years.

Planting rate: Seed at a rate of 20 lbs per acre. Inoculation of the seeds may help growth of this legume by helping the root system obtain nitrogen from the soil. For smaller plots plant 1 lb. per 1000 sq. ft. Broadcast rates should be higher than drilled rates. Fertilization on an annual basis will keep the forage and seed rate higher.
Planting Depth: 1/4″
Planting Dates: Best planting time is in the spring (March – Mid-May). Crown Vetch may also be planted in the fall, usually in September.

Additional planting and establishment of crown vetch information from the University of Missouri.

Planting Guide
All States – USA
Covers All Zones

Crown Vetch is a perennial legume that can provide forage for deer, seeds that other wildlife eat and cover for game birds such as quail. Crown vetch is grown in most of the United States and takes two to three years to fully establish a full stand but develops excellent coverage in the first year and is a heavy seeding legume after maturity. Make sure your location is suitable for planting Crown Vetch.

Wildlifeseeds.com – An Informational Website From Seedland.com

Crown Vetch: Use with Caution

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 18, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Crown vetch (Coronilla varia) is sometimes called axseed, axwort, hive-vine, or trailing crownvetch. To add to the confusion, it is sometimes referred to as Securigera varia. University of Missouri Extension considers the plant not a true vetch. Regardless of what name is preferred, crown vetch has landed on the list of unwelcome aggressive species in many northeastern states and parts of southern Canada.
Originally imported to use for groundcover, it was quickly discovered that this member of the pea family (formerly Leguminosae, now Papilionaceae) was excellent for erosion control on slopes, soil rehabilitation, and roadside planting. Given free rein in nature, the plant adapted to all soil and environmental conditions. However, with care, crown vetch can be utilized in the landscape to provide attractive, no-maintenance ground cover for areas that are impossible to mow or maintain. In any instance, be sure this species is not planted in an area where it can spread to cultivated parts of the property. Also be aware that the plant is attractive to deer, as this is a natural forage for them.

Pretty AND Hardy

Crown vetch is a low-growing vine with a creeping stem that grows to less than 2 feet. Pink to rose to lilac pea-like flowers bloom in umbrel form from June through September, depending on region. The plant can be confused with partridge pea (Cassia fasciculata), other native vetches, and non-native pea family relatives.
Some of the reasons this plant has naturalized so widely is its high tolerance for many conditions:

* Prefers full sun, but will grow in sparse shade

* Grows in rocky dry sites as well as moist areas with good drainage, clay and shallow soils

* Tolerant of low pH and low fertility

* Accepts a wide range of climatic conditions in Zones 3 to 10

* Has few insect predators

* Spreads by rhizomes and by seeds

* Seeds remain viable in the soil for many years

The above list also shows why crown vetch can be a good addition to areas like slopes around buildings or driveways, lawns too steep for mowing, and similar situations, but the plant is a slow starter in initial application, taking from 2 to 5 years to fully establish. It can also be seriously damaged if mowed frequently.
The subject of toxicity has a wide range of opinions and studies. Several resources stated that crown vetch posed a threat to horses, but that cattle could ingest it without consequences. Nowhere in the literature was the mention of toxicity to humans. Another source stated that crown vetch grew in a large horse pasture, but that the animals avoided it.

Using Crown Vetch in the Landscape
If crown vetch is the choice for inclusion in the landscape, it is available by either seed or peat-potted plants; both sources are relatively high in price ($50 for 30 plants/$17 for 1/4 pound seed). Three varieties are available: ‘Emerald’, ‘Penngift’, and ‘Chemung’. ‘Emerald’ and ‘Chemung’ are the most vigorous of the three, and they usually have taller growth. ‘Emerald’ is suitable for conditions in the Midwest, and ‘Chemung’ prefers the low fertility areas of the Northeast.
Planting crown vetch is more challenging than other species. The seed will not grow unless inoculated with a specific strain of bacteria. The microorganism attaches to the roots of the plant and captures nitrogen, degrades it, then supplies it to the plant. Seeds ordered from commercial companies will include a package of the inoculant and instructions.
Proper soil preparation and amendment is crucial to this legume; it will not establish on unlimed soils. Lime and fertilizer are worked into an uneven and rough seedbed; leave rocks, large clods, and even stumps to help stabilize the soil. Good contact with the soil is critical to seed germination. Mulch is recommended as young plants establish. Straw, cheesecloth, used tobacco canvas, woodchips or woodbark would all be adequate. Crown vetch can be incorporated into an area where vegetation is thin and sickly. Scratch the surface with a rake to provide soil contact for the seeds. For detailed instructions and ratios, read this excellent article from the University of Kentucky Department of Agronomy.
Peak times to establish crown vetch are mid-February through the end of March, or mid-August through mid-September. Any time in between will stress the seedling through heat, drought, and weed competition. Too late in the season, the plants will not survive the winter.
Got Vetch?
If you have this wildly spreading plant in places you don’t want it, it can be easily controlled by pulling the mature plants. If the location is too large for hand-weeding, mowing the plants at the flower stage for 2 to 3 consecutive years might control further spread. Just be sure to mow before the seeds mature.
Still discussing small areas of invasives, use of Glyphosate, triclopyr, or metsulfuron will effect control, as long as they are applied during active growth. Remember that triclopyr (Weed-B-Gone, Brush-B-Gone) is selective for broadleaf plants and will not harm adjacent grasses. Glyphosate (Roundup) will kill anything it touches. As always, read the label thoroughly and use good chemical-use practices.
For control in larger areas such as pastures, fields, and naturalized prairies, consult your local extension agent for best practices and products.
Prices found on Gurneys.com February 2009
Sources:
University of Missouri Extension. http://extension.missouri.edu
University of Kentucky Department of Agronomy. “Slope Stabilization with Crown Vetch”, A.J. Powell, Jr.
Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council. http://www.invasive.org
The Ohio State University. “Ohio Perennial & Biennial Weed Guide”. http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/weedguide

Crownvetch

Howell N. Wheaton
Department of Agronomy

Crownvetch, Coronilla varia L., is a cool season, hardy, perennial legume. It is not a true vetch, although it resembles common and hairy vetch. Crownvetch spreads from rhizomes and will form a dense cover. It has been used for soil stabilization and as an ornamental for many years.

Adaptation

Crownvetch has a wide range of climatic adaptations, but its performance has been superior on well-drained soils. It is tolerant of both low pH and low fertility soils. However, it is highly responsive to lime, phosphorus and potassium.

Crownvetch is particularly adapted to road bank stabilization and erosion control. At the present time this seems to be one of the best uses for the plant.

Acceptability and nutritive value as a forage crop

In recent years crownvetch has been considered as a source of forage for livestock. Information about the acceptability and nutritive value of crownvetch is still limited, and there is not enough evidence to make a dependable statement as to its merits as a forage crop. It is a non-bloating legume. Some research has indicated that the young growth is palatable but that more mature growth is not readily accepted. In other grazing trials, animals were slow to accept it, but after a few days their performance on crownvetch was comparable to that of other common grass-legume pastures.

Chemical analysis of crownvetch hay has shown that its crude protein and crude fiber content is similar to that of other legume hays. Digestible dry matter of crownvetch hay was below that of other grass-legume hays harvested at the same stage of maturity. Crownvetch hay is often difficult to wilt and cure.

Varieties

There are three varieties of crownvetch available. They are Emerald, Penngift and Chemung. Seedlings of Chemung and Emerald are more vigorous than Penngift. Chemung and Emerald usually have taller growth, coarser stems and broader leaves than Penngift. Emerald is well adapted to the soil and climatic conditions of the Midwest, but Chemung appears to be better adapted than Emerald to low fertility sites in the Northeast.

Inoculation

Crownvetch has not been extensively grown, and seed should always be inoculated before seeding. A specific strain of bacteria is required for proper inoculation of crownvetch. This can usually be obtained at the source where seed is obtained. Crownvetch seeds are very small and smooth. Take special care to be sure the inoculation adheres to the seed. Water sweetened with sugar will make the inoculum mix more adhesive.

Seeding

The usual seeding rate is 5 to 15 pounds per acre. Seed prices are high, so you will want to keep seeding rates low. If low seeding rates are used, techniques designed to ensure maximum plant establishment are of the utmost importance. These techniques include the use of a seed inoculant, chemical weed control and special seeding equipment. If possible, apply lime, phosphate and potash based on red clover requirements. Do not use nitrogen because it will stimulate weeds more than the young crownvetch plants.

Crownvetch may be seeded by several methods.

  • Spring seed on a prepared seedbed from March 15 to May 15. If possible, the sod should be fall plowed to control weeds and provide a firm seedbed.
  • Seed on a litter or mulch from dead Sudan grass from October to April.
  • Seed in early spring on a prepared seedbed. Prior to seeding, incorporate either 2 to 3 pounds of EPTC or 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of Benefin or 1/2 to 1 pound of Trifluralin into the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil with a disc and harrow. Take care not to mix the chemical too deeply in the soil because it may result in poor weed control. Chemical weed control is perhaps the best way to ensure a stand of crownvetch.

The herbicides will generally control weedy grasses and several of the broadleaf weeds. If broadleaf weeds become a problem, control them by mowing during the summer. If the weeds become extremely dense, shred them with a rotary mower. If you use a conventional mower, you may have to remove the weeds after mowing to prevent smothering of the young crownvetch plants.

  • Broadcast crownvetch seed and roll or pack the soil. You may also seed in rows and cultivate to control weeds. The creeping ability of crownvetch will enable it to fill the rows.

Management

Once the seedlings are established, relatively few crownvetch seedlings per acre will result in good stands because of its spreading habit due to the strong, vigorous rhizomes.

Crownvetch will persist under hay and grazing conditions if soil drainage and fertility is adequate. Its slow recovery after hay harvest suggests that it should not be overgrazed. A 3- to 4-inch stubble left after harvest is desirable to keep it in a productive state.

Crownvetch grows best on well-drained soils that have been limed as for clover. Hay yields have been less than alfalfa, so potash and phosphate should be applied as for red clover.

Crown Vetch Stock Photos and Images

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  • Crown vetch
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), blooming, Germany
  • Purple Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia
  • Crown Vetch (Securigera varia), blossom, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  • CROWN VETCH Securigera varia (Fabaceae)
  • Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia, UK
  • CROWN VETCH Securigera varia (Fabaceae)
  • Reverdin’s Blue nectaring on Crown Vetch. Near Chambery, Savoie, France.
  • Common crown vetch, Coronia varia, Ione Creek Falls, Selkirk Mountains, British Columbia, Canada
  • crown vetch, coronilla minima
  • Crown Vetch (Securigera varia)
  • crown vetch, coronilla coronata
  • Trailing Crown Vetch, Bunte Kronwicke, Securigera varia, Coronilla varia
  • crown vetch, coronilla coronata
  • Crown Vetch
  • Crown Vetch
  • A dwarf crown vetch, Coronilla minima, in flower on limestone, Apennines.
  • Caterpillar of the Berger’s Clouded Yellow on Crown vetch
  • Crown Vetch Securigera varia beside the Scarborough section of the Waterfront Trail in Toronto Ontario Canada
  • Corinilla varia or Purple Crown Vetch is a wildflower which is a low growing vine used for erosion control.
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), blooming, Germany
  • Glaucous Scorpion-vetch or Mediterranean Crown Vetch; Coronilla valentina, Algarve, Portugal.
  • Crown vetch (Coronilla minima), blooming
  • Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia = Securigera in flower.
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), flowers, Germany, Hesse
  • CROWN VETCH Securigera varia (Fabaceae)
  • Reverdin’s Blue nectaring on Crown Vetch. Near Chambery, Savoie, France.
  • Crown Vetch Coronilla varia = Securigera; uncommon in UK
  • Flower close up of crown vetch (Securigera varia)
  • Crown Vetch (Securigera varia)
  • Crown vetch, Securigera varia, in flower. Naturalised in UK.
  • Trailing Crown Vetch, Bunte Kronwicke, Securigera varia, Coronilla varia
  • crown vetch, coronilla coronata
  • Crown Vetch
  • crown vetch, securigera varia
  • Crown vetch
  • crown vetch, securigera varia
  • Crown Vetch Securigera varia beside the Scarborough section of the Waterfront Trail in Toronto Ontario Canada
  • Picture: Steve Race – Crown Vetch (Coronilla minima) in flower in Catalunya, Spain.
  • Crown vetch (Securigera varia) growing on slope, Rhone a Avignon, France, July.
  • Marbled White sitting on Crown Vetch, Bavaria, Germany
  • Crown Vetch, Securigera varia. Coronilla varia. ow-growing legume vine found in scrublands and used for land revitalization and erosion control.
  • Purple Crown Vetch Flowers in Bloom in Springtime
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), flowers, Germany, Hesse
  • Crown vetch (Securigera varia) plant in flower. Pale lilac flowers on clambering plant in the pea family (Fabaceae), naturalised in the UK
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), blooming, Germany
  • Crown Vetch
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), blooming, Germany
  • Wild Indigo Duskywing, Erynnis baptisiae, egg on Crown Vetch, Securigera varia
  • Crown vetch, Securigera varia, in flower. Naturalised in UK.
  • Trailing Crown Vetch, Bunte Kronwicke, Securigera varia, Coronilla varia
  • Securigera varia, Crown vetch, Bunte Kronwicke, seeds, close up, seed size 3-4 mm
  • Purple Crown Vetch
  • Trailing Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia, Securigera varia), flowering.
  • Crown vetch
  • crown vetch, securigera varia
  • Crown vetch
  • Crown Vetch Securigera varia beside the Scarborough section of the Waterfront Trail in Toronto Ontario Canada
  • Picture: Steve Race – Crown Vetch (Coronilla minima) in flower in Catalunya, Spain.
  • The red flowers of Crown Vetch (Hedysarum coronarium) on coastal cliffs, Tarifa, Andalucia, Spain.
  • Crown Vetch – Coronilla varia
  • Purple Crown Vetch Flowers in Bloom in Springtime
  • 2 Spoty Ladybird, Adalia bipunctata, on crown vetch, coronilla varia, against pink background flowers, red with black spots, pretty
  • Securigera varia, synonym Coronilla varia, commonly known as crownvetch or purple crown vetch. Isolated on white.
  • colorful Crown vetch in Full bloom
  • Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia,Cockington Village, Torquay. July 2019
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), blooming, Germany
  • Wild Indigo Duskywing, Erynnis baptisiae, female ovipositing on Crown Vetch, Securigera varia
  • Crown vetch, Securigera varia, in flower. Naturalised in UK.
  • Crown vetch (Securigera varia) in early June in central Virginia
  • Crown vetch,coronilla varia, clusters in a field, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • Crown vetch (Securigera varia) in early June in central Virginia
  • Purple crown-vetch (Coronilla varia) flower, Lorraine, France
  • Purple and white crown vetch flowers. The scientific name is Securigera varia (synonymn Coronilla varia)
  • crown vetch, securigera varia
  • Crown vetch
  • crown vetch, securigera varia
  • Crown Vetch
  • Crown Vetch Securigera varia beside the Scarborough section of the Waterfront Trail in Toronto Ontario Canada
  • The red flowers of Crown Vetch (Hedysarum coronarium) on coastal cliffs, Tarifa, Andalucia, Spain.
  • Securigera varia Coronilla varia crownvetch crown-vetch axseed purple crown vetch ground cover flower wildflower invasive plant
  • Purple Crown Vetch Flowers in Bloom in Springtime
  • Securigera varia Coronilla varia crownvetch crown-vetch axseed purple crown vetch ground cover flower wildflower invasive plant
  • The red flowers of Crown Vetch (Hedysarum coronarium) on coastal cliffs, Tarifa, Andalucia, Spain.
  • Securigera varia (Coronilla varia), purple crown vetch blooming flowers and leaves close up detail on soft blurry background
  • crown vetch, trailing crownvetch, common crown-vetch (Securigera varia, Coronilla varia), inflorescence, Germany
  • Wild Indigo Duskywing, Erynnis baptisiae, female ovipositing on Crown Vetch, Securigera varia
  • Crown vetch, Securigera varia, in flower. Naturalised in UK.
  • Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia)
  • Securigera varia (Coronilla varia), purple crown vetch blooming flowers on sunny spring glade, flowers background
  • white and pink flowers of Securigera varia plant
  • Purple crown-vetch (Coronilla varia) flower, Lorraine, France
  • Purple and white crown vetch flowers. The scientific name is Securigera varia (synonymn Coronilla varia)
  • Securigera varia / Crownvetch / Bunte Kronwicke
  • Purple crown-vetch (Coronilla varia) flowers
  • Crown Vetch …Coronilla varia…
  • Crown Vetch
  • Close up of Alpine Crown Vetch Coronilla varia flower
  • Crown Vetch
  • Wildflower from above

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Crown Vetch Plants – How Do You Grow Crown Vetch In The Landscape

If you are looking for something to naturalize a sloping home landscape, consider planting crown vetch for a natural backyard. While some may think of it as merely a weed, others have long since taken advantage of this plant’s unique beauty and use in the landscape. Best of all, the care of crown vetch ‘weed’ is extremely easy. So how do you grow crown vetch? Keep reading to learn more about this interesting plant.

What is Crown Vetch Weed?

Crown vetch (Coronilla varia L.) is a trailing herbaceous member of the pea family. This cool season perennial plant is also known as ax seed, ax wort, hive-vine, and trailing crown vetch. Introduced in North America from Europe in the 1950’s as a ground cover for soil erosion on banks and highways, this ground cover spread rapidly and naturalized throughout the United States.

Although commonly planted as an ornamental, it is important that homeowners be aware this plant can become invasive in many areas, lending to its reference as crown vetch weed. That said, crown vetch fixes nitrogen in the soil and is commonly used to restore strip-mined soil. Use crown vetch for a natural backyard or to cover slopes or rocky areas in your landscape. Attractive pinkish-rose flowers appear in May through August sitting atop short fern-like leaflets. Flowers produce long and slender pods with seeds that are reported to be toxic.

How Do You Grow Crown Vetch?

Planting crown vetch can be done by seed or potted plants. If you have a large area to cover, it is best to use seed.

Crown vetch is not particular about soil type and will tolerate low pH and low fertility. However, you can prepare the soil by adding lime and organic compost. Leave rocks and hunks of dirt for a somewhat uneven planting bed.

While it prefers full sun, it will tolerate some spotty shade. Young plants also do best when covered with a shallow layer of mulch.

Care of Crown Vetch

Once planted, the care of crown vetch requires very little maintenance, if any. Water new plants regularly and mow established plants to the ground in early fall.

Cover with a 2-inch layer of mulch for winter protection.

Note: Crown vetch plants are commonly found in mail-order catalogs and nurseries with alternate spellings of one or two words. Either one is correct.

The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Crown Vetch is an introduced invasive perennial that grows on partially erect to reclining and trailing stems that can be up to six feet long when trailing and about 1 to 2 feet tall when erect. Multiple stems arise from the roots. Tendrils are lacking but the plant can climb by twining of the stem around objects.

The leaves are alternate and compound with an odd number of leaflets, usually 11 to 25, on the leaf stem, which is stalkless. Leaflets are oblong, about 1/4 x 3/4 inch, smooth margins, hairless and the tip has a little point – a projection of the midvein. Leaves are without tendrils.

The inflorescence is a round dense flat-topped umbel of 10 to 25 flowers on a long stalk rising from the leaf axils and held above the leaves. From the top the flowers resemble a whorl.

The flowers are 5-parted with the calyx having 5 pointed lobes. The base of the calyx is green with the lobes shading to pinkish. The 5 petals are pink to white arranged in a pea-like manner with the upper petal forming the banner (standard) – the deepest pink colored petal; two lateral petals which project forward and partially enclose the two petals forming the keel – both laterals and keel petals are usually white. The keel petals house the stamens and pistil. Each flower has a very short pinkish stalk.

Seed: The mature flowers produce a long linear brown seed pod, up to 2 inches long with a beak at the end. The pod is 4-angled and segmented. Each segment contains an individual seed that is brown and oblong, about 4 mm long, dropping from the pod when it splits open. Seed remains viable in the ground for 15 years.

Habitat: Crown Vetch grows from a branched root system with fleshy rhizomes from which it spreads and forms dense colonies. It grows well on low-fertility sites but needs moisture and sun. If forms nitrogen in the roots and the dense growth stabilizes the soil.

Names: The genus name Coronilla is derived from the Latin corona, meaning ‘a crown’ and refers to the appearance of the flat-topped whorl of flowers. The species, varia, means ‘diverse’ or ‘differing’ and is obscure. The author name for the plant classification – ‘L.’ is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. In some references this species will be classified as Securigera varia (L.) Lassen, but that is not an accepted current name.

Comparison: The flower cluster of pea-type flowers resembles that of Birdsfoot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, but there the flowers are yellow and the leaf is 5-parted, not a long leaf with many leaflets. Those many leaflets and pinkish flowers may also resemble American Vetch, Vicia americana or Veiny Pea, Lathyrus venosus, both of which have tendrils.

Invasive Plant Management

CROWN VETCH (Securigera varia) IS A NON-NATIVE PERENNIAL PLANT IN THE LEGUME FAMILY. It was introduced into the United States in the 1950s primarily for erosion control along roads and waterways. Crown vetch is currently found in all US states except North Dakota (USDA Plants Database 2018, Klein 2011).

The invasion of crown vetch into natural areas in Midwestern states is having a significant impact on plant diversity and wildlife habitat. The plant is a prolific seed producer, spreading by seed and rhizomes.

Field trials were conducted on a crown vetch infestation located on Boomerang Island in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Wisconsin. Lee Shambeau with 4 Control Inc. applied Milestone® herbicide at 5 fluid ounces per acre (fl oz/A) in August with a backpack sprayer to mature crown vetch plants. Visual evaluations taken three weeks after treatment showed greater than 95 percent control of crown vetch with no damage to desirable trees and shrubs.

Eight years following application, refuge Biological Science Technician Calvin Gehri evaluated the site to determine if crown vetch had reinvaded. The site had not been treated since the initial application, and Gehri reported that control remained good to excellent. Crown vetch cover was about 10 to 15 percent eight years after application compared to greater than 90 percent cover prior to treatment (85 to 90% control).

Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) and nettles (Urtica dioica L.) currently occupy niches once dominated by crown vetch. Although neither plant is considered to be desirable, nettles allow other native plants to establish and are used by some native butterflies. Both reed canary grass and nettles provide competition that minimized crown vetch re-invasion. Depending on habitat objectives, establishing desirable plants may be a consideration with future control efforts.

Other Field Studies

Dr. Mark Renz of the University of Wisconsin conducted field trials near Barneveld, Wisconsin to study efficacy of Milestone® herbicide applied to crown vetch at three growth stages. Milestone was applied to crown vetch at the bud (June), flower (July), and fall (October) growth stages. Evaluations included visual percent control and cover of crown vetch, and percent visual injury to grasses one to two years following treatment.

Results of the study showed that Milestone applied at either bud or fall growth stage provided excellent control one year after treatment (Figure). However, only the fall herbicide application continued to provide good crown vetch control two growing seasons following treatment. There was no grass injury noted in plots resulting from the herbicide treatment.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Recently added to Minnesota’s Restricted Noxious Weed List, crown vetch (Securigera varia) is difficult to control once it is established. It is native to central and Eastern Europe and the Caucus region of Asia. Crown vetch was widely planted as a groundcover, cover crop, and slope stabilizer, but these uses declined due to the invasive nature of the plant.

Crown vetch is an herbaceous perennial in the legume family. It has a low, groundcover growth habit. The leaves are dark green and pinnately compound with 15-25 pairs of oval-shaped leaflets. The flowers are pink to white and occur in clusters at the leaf axils. The plants bloom from May through August.

Crown vetch spreads by seeds and aggressive rhizomes. The rhizomes grow horizontally up to 10 feet and produce new plants vegetatively. Crown vetch can be introduced to new areas by soil contaminated with root fragments.

Crown vetch invades prairies, woodland edges, streambanks, pastures, rights-of-way, and roadsides. It prefers open and sunny habitats, is tolerant of all different soil types, and is drought tolerant. Crown vetch overtakes and suppresses other vegetation, reducing species diversity and wildlife habitat. Because of its low, creeping growth habit, it can cover and shade out other plants, eventually forming dense monocultures.

Several management strategies may be necessary to keep crown vetch from spreading:

  • Infestation sites will need to be monitored for several years and treated repeatedly until the seedbanks are depleted.
  • Do not plant crown vetch and use alternative cover crops or native plants that can be used for soil stabilization.
  • Mowing can be effective to slow the spread. Timing is crucial when mowing, with the goal of preventing seed formation. Mowing will have to be done for many successive years and may have to be followed up with herbicide treatments.
  • Prescribed burning in late spring for several successive years can be an effective control method. Contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to learn more about burning practices and regulations.
  • Large infestations may be treated with herbicide. Contact your local University of Minnesota Extension agent, co-op, or certified landscape care expert for assistance and recommendations.

— Minnesota Department of Agriculture

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