Meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis) is a common plant that grows throughout the British Isles in grassy place and also in hedges and on banks such as railway embankments, where it forms large clumps.
Meadow vetchling is a nitrogen fixer, so it is a welcome plant on grass meadows. It also contributes to the nutritional value of pastures and hay crops, due to being relatively rich in protein, especially in its seeds.
It is a scrambling plant that produces weak, spindly stems up to 48 inches (120 cms) in length. These gain support from other plants by virtue of tendrils at the leaf tips. Leaf-like stipules grow at the base of the leaf stalks, which are square in cross-section.
Despite having a small, forked tendril on each leaf, meadow vetchling is not a great climber.
Meadow vetchling flowers from May to August, with five to twelve yellow flowers being carried on stalks that are longer than the leaves.The flowers are visited mainly by bumble bees, which have tongues that are long enough to reach the nectar at the bottom of the long flower tubes.
The seed pods look flattened when ripe and sometimes are covered with fine hairs.
The plant also spreads due to its creeping, underground rootstock. This throws up a profusion of sharply angled stems.
Folk names for meadow vetchling include “lady`s slippers”and “old granny’s slipper-sloppers”, these names referring to the shape of the flowers. Another name, “yellow tare-tine”, makes use of an old name for vetch, namely “tare”, although this should not be confused with the word for weed that appears in the Authorised Version of the New Testament.