LEGUMES TAKE THE TEMPERATURE SWINGS IN STRIDE
By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
The roller coaster nature of recent temperatures has been blamed on a variety of problems, primarily respiratory ills.
The temperature was up, then down, then up and down again.
The uncertainty makes it difficult know if the heat or AC should be on, and whether to dress warm or cool.
The weather’s wide variability has caused problems for more than the human residents of Wakulla County.
Many spring annuals and some perennials have been deceived and begin to grow, responding to the recent warmer temperatures and moisture.
The return of decidedly cold temperatures wilted delicate leaves of most foliage after the brief false spring.
Legumes native to Wakulla County are the exception. They take the temperature swings in stride and keep on growing towards a spring bloom.
Legumes by definition are a plant with a nitrogen producing bacteria attached to their root system. The bacterial activity produces the essential nutrient to the plant giving it a substantial survival advantage over its competitors.
Vetch is the most common naturally occurring legume found in Wakulla County. The low growing plant is easily identified by its elongated dagger-shaped leaves which are half an inch in length.
In spring, this annual plant produces diminutive purple flowers which quickly become inch-long seed pods. Most of the seed are scattered within a few yard, and over a few years can develop a dense tangle of plants which are attractive to grazing animals and birds.
Honeybees and native pollinators can be seen visiting the blooms. No doubt the early blooms are a treat after a long winter of living off stored honey and pollen in the hive.
Birds and animals can scatter seed to new areas where the hardy plant will aggressively colonize any suitable environment. The primary deterrent to becoming established in the new site is the plant is eaten or killed before its seed are allowed to mature.
A secondary benefit of vetch is its root system. The roots penetrate deeply into the soil and are a native form of erosion control.
Additionally, when the vetch plants die in the spring after setting seed, the roots become a conduit for establishing other plants. As the vetch’s roots decay, they serve as an easy canal for other roots to follow.
This time of year vetch may be seen in open or partially shaded areas. The plant is a few inches in height, but with no bloom or seed pods.
After any frost typical to the area in the next few months, vetch is left unaffected. The colder temperatures work to vetch’s advantage in that many competing plants are killed or stunted.
Other commonly seen winter legumes in Wakulla County are clovers. Like vetch, they also have a nitrogen fixing bacterial on their roots and they are adept at flourishing in the cold and frosty temperatures.
Unlike vetch, they do not have the deep root system and some are perennials. All of these handle the Wakulla county weather yo-yo and still manage to flourish.
To learn more about vetch and other native legumes in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or
Les Harrison is the Wakulla County Extension Director. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 926-3931.