This wild perennial of the pea family has a very similar habit to our cultivated pea but its ‘peas’ are mildly toxic. It tends towards hedgerows throughout Scotland, and can be found in other grassy or bushy places. It spreads through runners beneath the soil. Other names include Cow vetch or Blue vetch. The name ‘Tufted’ comes from the leaves and stems which are covered in short hairs.
It has a scrambling habit, with leaves divided into many pairs of opposite leaflets, each ending in a twining tendril which curls around other plants in order to get on. The leaves are slightly hairy, consisting of 6-12 pairs of narrow oval leaflets.
It has a one sided, densely flowered spike of up to 40 blue-violet flowers. Each flower is 8-12mm in length, with 5 petals in the standard pea formation of one top petal, 2 lateral wings, and two fused lower petals forming the ‘tongue.’ The overall shape of the corolla is butterfly-like. Up to 10 stamens hide inside the petals and are highly visited by bumblebees who muscle inside the petals to retrieve the nectar.
Each seed pod is flattish, turning from green to brown, and contains 4-8 seeds, or peas. These are green and plump when new, but turn black upon ripening.