Vicia orobus

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaFabaceaeViciaVicia orobus


A perennial herb of grassy, often slightly base-enriched habitats on banks and the edges of fields, particularly amongst stones, boulders or bushes. Usually between 200 and 300 m, but down to sea level in Sutherland, and reaching 455 m on the Wast Water screes (Cumberland).



World Distribution

Suboceanic Temperate element.

© K.J. Walker, BSBI

Broad Habitats

Inland rock (quarries, cliffs, screes)

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 5

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 4

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 13.8

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1410

Height (cm): 60

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 214

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 15

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.34

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Vicia orobus DC.

Wood bitter-vetch

Status: not scarce


A characteristic species of well-drained old species rich grassland in fertile, somewhat base enriched soil. It is intolerant of grazing and of competition from scrub. It occurs especially on banks and among boulders and thorny bushes, which give some protection from grazing stock, and on grassy sides of roads and tracks where there is no grazing but an occasional cut prevents the development of scrub. A favourite habitat is the stony edges of small enclosed fields of unimproved grassland from which sheep are excluded in summer to allow a hay crop to grow. It has a wide range of associates including Alchemilla glabra, Carex pallescens, Coeloglossum viride, Euphrasia arctica subsp. borealis, Genista anglica, Pseudorchis albida, Rhinanthus minor, Serratula tinctoria, Stachys officinalis, Succisa pratensis and Viola lutea. It is primarily an upland species, usually found between 200 metres and 300 metres, reaching 430 metres in Afton Glen, but descending to sea-level north of Lochinver. 

A long-lived perennial which germinates readily from seed.

Although more widespread in its core areas than previously thought, it is intolerant of both grazing and competition from scrub, and thus affected both by too much and too little management. It has suffered from grassland improvement in some areas.

It is confined to western Europe, from North Spain to Denmark and south-west Norway, but on the European mainland it is a plant of shrub and forest edges. It is closely allied to V. cassubica, which replaces it from central France eastwards.


D. A. Pearman & P. M. Benoit