Northern legumes

The Vetches (Vicia species) are legumes, with many leaflets and climbing with soft tendrils. Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) is a common legume in Iceland as well as all over Europe. This species has small downy leaves, deep purple flowers in large clusters, and forms brown pods later in the season. Tufted Vetch grows on dry terrain, such as sandy soils, grassy slopes and is spreading as a roadside weed in Iceland. A related legume, the Bush Vetch (V. sepium), resembles the Tufted vetch, and boasts red or violet flowers in midsummer and black pods later in the season.

Three species of Peas grow wild in Iceland. These plants are similiar to the Vetches in many respects, while Peas have fewer leaflets and more angled and winged stems. The Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis) is rare in Iceland where it thrives on heaths and in forests. However, this species has a wide distribution on three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa. Meadow Vetchling has delicate stems and small clusters of yellow flowers, appearing in July. The black pods form later if the flowers are successfully fertilised by bees. Marsh Pea (L. palustris) has greenish-blue leaves and blue or purple flowers. Additionally, this species seldom flowers and is rare in Iceland. Sea Pea (L. japonicus) as its name incates often grows on sandy banks near the coast, where it is a rapid colonizer of open areas.

A jewel in the flora of Iceland is the low growing Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), its present distribution is mostly limited to two locations in southwestern and northeastern Iceland. This delicate plant has flaming yellow flowers heads. However, you will find this species in city of Reykjavik and the neighbouring towns. Kidney weed is spreading also in the country due to increased protection of land from sheep grazing and along the roads of seaside and fishing communites.

Most legumes are intolerant of grazing, while thriving on protected land where they play a role in improving the soils. White Clover (Trifolium repens) is a common pasture species in Iceland and quite tolerant of grazing, while Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is rare here. In Iceland native legumes are increasingly used for improving and binding poor soils.

An imported plant Nootka Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis) originating in Alaska is much used for land restoration. Nootka Lupine is spreading rapidly in many parts of Iceland. This species is an effective binder of nitrogen as well as several other nutrients. However, in some parts of the country it is considered a serious weed, overtaking other vegetation and should only be sown in areas where it is unlikely to invade healthy native vegetation.

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