Horseshoe vetch

Hippocrepis comosa

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  3. Horseshoe vetch


The perennial horseshoe vetch is an essential plant for the chalkhill and Adonis blue butterflies as their caterpillars feed soley on this and it’s also used by the dingy skipper. The common name is thought to come from the shape of the seed pods which are said to resemble horseshoes.

How to identify

Five to 12 bright yellow, small pea-like flowers on each head with small folded, green oval leaves.

Where to find it

Generally central and southern England, stretching into eastern England and some found in northwest England


When to find it

  • May
  • June

How can people help

Horseshoe vetch is found on chalk downland habitats - patchworks of chalk grassland, heath, scrub and ponds found on chalk hills. Areas of rare and unique wildlife, chalk grasslands, in particular, have been likened to a rainforest for the diversity of species they hold. But they are being lost at an alarming rate due to changes in land use causing the decline of grazing: it's estimated that we've lost 80% of our chalk grassland over the last 60 years. The Wildlife Trusts manage many grassland and downland nature reserves for the benefit of the rare wildlife they hold. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from scrub-cutting to stockwatching.

Species information

Common name
Horseshoe vetch
Latin name
Hippocrepis comosa
Conservation status