April 2017

Lathyrus vernus  (Spring Vetch)

 Text and photographs by Bob Mitchell


Lathyrus belongs to the pea family and has 160 species, of which 54 are found in Europe.  They are predominantly northern hemisphere species. 

Lathyrus is an important crop plant producing peas, lentils, used as forage and green manure as well as containing decorative plants such as sweet and everlasting peas.


Lathyrus vernus is from Continental Europe to East Siberia and was named by Linnaeus (1707-1778) in 1753 as Orobus vernus, but transferred to Lathyrus by Johann Jakob Bernhardi (1774-1850) in Syst. Verz. Erfurt 247 in 1800.  It grows naturally in woodland situations and clearings. 



Lathyrus vernus is a clump-forming, herbaceous perennial which flowers in early spring.  The flowers are reddish-purple becoming blue and there are colour variations from rose and white tinged pink to pure white.  Twenty varieties and cultivars are offered in the 2016 RHS Plant Finder.  Lathyrus vernus will grow to about 20 cm tall and wide.  The stems are upright and the flowers well displayed.


 It has been in cultivation for over two centuries for it featured in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine t. 521 in 1801 and rightly received the Award of Garden Merit in 1993 and Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus’ in 1997.   Our plant is growing in a mixed colour planting with cultivar ‘Alboroseus’ which has white petals and a pink base, in a semi-shady spot where it has been for over 35 years.



Lathyrus vernus grows well on a wide range of well drained soils in full sun or light shade.  It has few pest or disease problems.  This is an excellent plant for a rock garden or the front of a herbaceous border where it will flower for two months.



It can be divided in early spring or raised from seed. 



Lathyrus vernus is growing at the east end of  the Rock Garden on the road-side beside the access to the Scree.



Cullen, J. et al. 1994.   The European Garden Flora.  Cambridge.

 Jarvis, Charlie.  2007.  Order out of Chaos.  Linnean Society and Natural History Museum.

 Mabberley.D.L. 2008.  Mabberley’s Plant-Book. Cambridge.

 Tutin, T. G. et al. 1968.  Flora Europaea Volume 2.  Cambridge.