Vicia lutea

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaFabaceaeViciaVicia lutea


An annual found as a native in a variety of coastal habitats, including scrubby grassland and cliffs, and on open yet consolidated shingle. In S. Scotland it is confined to sheltered sea-cliffs. Inland it is found as a casual, or sometimes in persistent populations, on roadsides, quarries and railway banks. Lowland.



World Distribution

Submediterranean-Subatlantic element; widely naturalised outside its native range.

© K.J. Walker, BSBI

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 4

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 5

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 1

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4.8

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.9

Annual Precipitation (mm): 844

Height (cm): 50

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 58

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 7

Atlas Change Index: -0.85

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Vicia lutea L.


Status: scarce


V. lutea grows as a native in several coastal habitats, including sparsely vegetated but stable shingle, Festuca rubra grassland and on cliffs in the transition zone between grassland and Prunus spinosa scrub. It also occurs in less natural habitats including roadside banks and verges and the sides of disused limestone and serpentine quarries. At the northernmost extant localities, in south-west Scotland, it is confined to south-facing cliff slopes in sheltered bays. Characteristic associates include Armeria maritima, Dactylis glomerata, Plantago lanceolata, Poa humilis and Silene maritima. In Sussex V. lutea is also found in chalk grassland, but there is some doubt whether these plants are native or established aliens. The species is also found as a casual inland, and some inland populations can persist for some years in habitats such as railway embankments and disused gravel pits. 

V. lutea is an annual which germinates in autumn, flowers in the following June and fruits freely. Plants on shingle can produce a few flowers underground, which also set seed. Populations vary greatly in size from year to year, and can be particularly abundant in the year following a hot summer when perennial species have been killed by drought. Plants can also appear in abundance after gorse scrub has been burnt.

This species has not been seen at many of its sites in northern England and Scotland since 1930. There is always the possibility that the species could be rediscovered at some of these sites in a particularly favourable year, and at other sites where it is thought to be native it may have been only a casual. In southern England one population was destroyed many years ago by coastal development and another may have been lost because of natural erosion, but the distribution currently seems to be stable.

V. lutea is a southern and western European species which is at the northern edge of its range in Britain. It also occurs in N. Africa and Asia eastwards to Iran. The species is described as polymorphic in Turkey (Davis 1970), but native British populations are rather uniform except for slight variation in flower colour.


C. D. Preston

Atlas text references

Atlas (115c)
de Bolòs O, Vigo J
1984.  Flora dels Països Catalans, I. Introducció. Licopodiàcies-Capparàcies.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.