Tiny Vetch (Vicia hirsuta), a miniature Eurasian and African annual introduced to Australia as fodder crop or seed contaminant.
In the 1864 Flora australiensis, Kew botanist George Bentham reported receipt of specimens of Tiny Vetch (and the related Common Vetch) from Australian correspondents, ‘especially around Adelaide.’ In QLD, where even today the species has few records, Tiny Vetch was listed in the 1870s as an introduced weed (yielding a ‘nourishing fodder’) in newspaper columns and Royal Society papers, and similarly in 1884 among the plants of NSW for the Sydney Mail.
Sprawling on feathery tendrils across waste ground and dry thickets, Tiny Vetch often features on rocky exposures, cemeteries and the infrastructural edges of roads, drains and improved croplands. Like many legumes, the species was a useful element of ‘improved’ pastures, and inoffensive or manageable when astray. Outside of the peri-urban gardens and orchards where it took root on the edge of Australia’s colonial centres, the plant would hardly have been recognised as a weed at all, and this is borne out in the scant formal records or published fuss about Tiny Vetch before the mid 20th c.
Although early collections were sent to Kew, the first digitised collection in an Australian institution was only made at Gisborne, Victoria in 1892. Tiny Vetch appears to have been common in the Adelaide Hills, and in Victoria where it was reported to be widespread by 1909 when included in Ewart and Tovey’s ‘Census of the Naturalized Aliens of Victoria’.
It has been difficult to ascertain whether Tiny Vetch was ever intentionally introduced into forage and cover cropping, rather than simply a tolerable contaminant not easily separated from larger vetches or other crops (or from bags reused for same). Neither damned nor effusively praised, in 1929 the WA Government Botanist, IDing the species for a correspondent, described it similarly to counterparts a half-century earlier: ‘it should be of some value in natural pastures, and is worth encouraging.’