Lathyrus aphaca

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaFabaceaeLathyrusLathyrus aphaca


The only persistent populations of this annual are in open grassy habitats on chalk, limestone and calcareous clay soils, especially near the coast. The species is possibly native in such habitats, but it also occurs as a casual in waste places, and as an arable weed where it may have been introduced as a contaminant of legume crops. Lowland.



World Distribution

Submediterranean?Subatlantic element; also in C. Asia and widely naturalised outside its native range.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 3

Reaction (Ellenberg): 8

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 4


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.4

Annual Precipitation (mm): 718

Life form information

Height (cm): 60

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 174

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 3

Atlas Change Index: -1.38

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Lathyrus aphaca L.

Yellow vetchling

Status: scarce



This species grows on lowland roadside verges, grassy waysides, low earthy cliffs by the sea and sea walls. It is generally found in ungrazed or lightly grazed calcareous grassland, particularly over clay but also on limestone in some coastal sites. These sites often have a rich legume flora, with species such as Lathyrus nissolia, Vicia bithynica, V. lutea and V. parviflora in similar vegetation and Trifolium fragiferum in shorter, more trampled, areas nearby. The species is also found as a casual in places such as mills, docks, railway banks, arable land and on waste ground. 

This is an annual species which flowers from May to August. Germination takes place in the autumn.

L. aphaca may be a long-established introduction rather than a native species. In many areas such as Somerset (Roe 1981), Kent (Parkinson 1640), and Essex (Jermyn 1974), most of the early records are as an arable weed, and the species may have been introduced as a seed contaminant of leguminous crops. Many of the pre-1970 records date from the nineteenth century, and at some of these localities, the species may not have been well established. It is now more frequent in permanent habitats, particularly near the sea. The history of this species resembles that of Gastridium ventricosum, described by Trist (1986), and L. aphaca can often be found at sites for G. ventricosum.

L. aphaca is widespread in western, central and southern Europe, North Africa and south-west and central Asia. In Europe it is established northwards to Britain, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany but it is believed to be an introduction in all these countries.

The established British plant is var. aphaca, The species is a variable one elsewhere, attaining its maximum variability in Anatolia.



F. J. Rumsey

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (116c)
Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E
1965.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.