Fabaceae (Pea Family)
General - a slender, climbing perennial from creeping rhizomes; stems somewhat flat-sided, 0.3 - 1 m tall, hairless.
Leaves - alternate, compound, tendril at tip; 6 to 10 leaflets, egg-shaped to elliptic, 2 - 5 cm long; tendrils well-developed, usually branched; stipules broad, oval, often half as long as leaflets.
Flowers - 5 - 10 in clusters at step tips; pea-like; petals white to yellowish white, about 15 mm long; appearing early summer.
Fruit - hairless pods; opening in late-summer.
Open woods, thickets, and clearings; widespread across our region, north and west to southern N.W.T. and northern B.C.
Many plants of this genus are eaten by livestock and have been used successfully in various parts of the world. However, they are generally viewed with suspicion because some cause a type of poisoning called lathyrism, which results from eating too much vetchling seed over long periods of time. Epidemics of lathyrism date back to ancient Greece, but cases in humans usually occurred during famines when people were forced to eat vetchling almost exclusively. After 10 days to 4 weeks, this can cause progressive loss of coordination, ending in irreversible paralysis. Vetchling is not generally considered poisonous but these plants should be approached with caution. Lathyrus is the ancient Greek name for a 'pea' or 'a pulse' (legume).
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