FACT SHEET: Utah Sweetvetch

click picture for larger version

Common Name: Utah Sweetvetch
Other Common Names: Northern Sweetvetch
Scientific Name
: Hedysarum boreale
Synonym: Hedysarum utahensis
Family: Pea Family (Fabaceae)
Distribution: common and widely distributed in the Intermountain West
Habitat: foothill and middle montane habitats
Habit: perennial herb
Height: 1'
Spread: 1'
Foliage Color: bright green
Leaves: mostly basal, pinnately compound, with well-spaced round to oblong leaflets
Flower Color
: bright magenta pink
Flower Form: large (1/2 -1" long) pea flowers, in a loose, elongate terminal inflorescence held erect above the leaves

Cultural Requirements: Prefers full sun to partial shade and rocky, well-drained soils. Fully cold-hardy. Drought hardy (i.e., needs no supplemental water after establishment on the Wasatch Front), but somewhat tolerant of overwatering.

Readily grown from seed. May be direct-seeded in late fall. Does not compete well as a seedling with grasses. As with many members of the Pea Family, the seeds of Utah sweetvetch are often "hard". This means that they must be nicked or otherwise scarified in order to permit the entry of water. Once they swell, indicating that water has entered, they usually germinate quickly without further treatment. Plants from container culture require two years to flower, and direct-seeded plants may require several years. The plants are long-lived once established.

Uses and Notes of Interest: Utah sweetvetch is one of the few nontoxic legumes common in sagebrush steppe country, and as such it has received a lot of attention. A named germplasm release, "Timp", was selected from a local Orem bench population, and is now in field production as a seed crop. Sweetvetch is unmistakable in fruit. Instead of the usual pea pod, its seeds are borne in flattened, one-seeded segments called "loments", that are strung together like beads. The seeds are harvested by stripping the loments when they turn straw-colored. It can be quite a job to extract the seeds from these loments. For field seeding, they can be sown loment and all.