It was without a doubt the best Father’s Day bouquet that I had ever seen.
Elegant in its simplicity, this gift was clearly created with love and affection. It was made of found objects and plants collected in the yard. The vase was an empty Guinness beer can, well-rinsed and shined up, with the top of the can removed. A few flowers and grasses from the yard were cut and put into this special container. It was perfect.
The predominant flower chosen for this posy of plants was cow vetch. Its creator, Belle, is a girl who finds beauty everywhere, especially in her own backyard.
It doesn’t matter to Belle that cow vetch is an invasive species, native to Europe and Asia, and considered a problematic weed here in the U.S. She doesn’t pass judgment, just appreciates the world around her.
Cow vetch is a member of the pea family and clearly fits in with that group. It has tendrils at the tips of its leaves that will reach out and grab other plants, sometimes even strangling its unsuspecting botanical neighbors.
Its scientific name, Vicia cracca, and its common name of vetch allude to that quality. Both are derived from a Latin root meaning “to bend or wind,” and “I cling to thee,” depending on your etymologist. Cow vetch is also known as bird vetch, tufted vetch, boreal vetch, Canadian pea, or my favorite alias (from Finland), mouse’s pea.
Though vetch is not appreciated by all, Belle always sees the best in people and things, and vetch has a good side to see. As a legume, cow vetch fixes nitrogen in the soil and is used to control erosion. Fittingly for a plant in a Guinness can, cow vetch is a stout plant with what is known as a “tap” root that goes deep, up to a meter into the ground. It is also forage for cattle and a favorite food for butterflies and bees, but not food for humans since it is thought to be toxic to our system. And who would have known that budgies, short for budgerigar, and also known as parakeets, enjoy its seeds and foliage as a special treat or delicacy.
Clearly, few creatures can resist its attractive purple flowers, which bloom profusely on each stem in a group called a raceme. Interestingly, these flowers are found on only one side of the stalk. Cow vetch starts early and will blossom throughout the summer, which made it a perfect choice for a Father’s Day gift.
Its flowers are followed by green seed-bearing pods that will turn brown as they mature. The seeds are dispersed when the pods dry, jettisoning the seeds through the air. Vetch can also be propagated through its underground runners.
People may rave about the bouquet of one wine or another, but to me the bouquet in that recycled Guinness can has them all beat. No one should kvetch over the gift of vetch. I hope all the dads reading this received as much love in a small package as Belle’s did.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.