Mystery Flora: Little Purple Vine

These beauties come from Hug Point in Oregon. I dragged my intrepid companion down there because I’d read Ellen Morris Bishop’s In Search of Ancient Oregon and decided I need to go search for it meself. One thing I hadn’t quite grasped yet, apart from the dramatic scope of the geology, was that the Pacific Northwest is full of flowers that people from Arizona would pay cold hard cash for and struggle mightily to keep alive. Imagine my delight when I discovered these things grow wild up here.

Mystery Flower

Wild. On the beach. In the rocks. Extraordinary beauty, clinging on wherever it can. Often hiding the geology, but one can forgive it for that. Sort of.

That’s the only photo I have of this particular mystery. But we can’t stop at just one pretty flower, so what the hell? I’ll throw in some irises for free.

This was at Ecola State Park, and it seemed like the whole head was full of wild irises.

Wild Iris I

Those of you who grew up in dry country will probably understand why I still get ridiculously excited over these things.

Wild Iris II

And you’ll understand why whole fields of them leave me speechless.

Not to mention these views.

Ecola State Park

And as if that’s not spectacular enough…

Waterfall at Hug Point

A waterfall on the beach, people. This place is fantastic.

Mystery Flora: Little Purple Vine

14 thoughts on “Mystery Flora: Little Purple Vine

  1. rq

    It looks like a pea and it functions like a pea (being a nitrogen-fixing legume) but it is actually a vetch. I’m going to go with Common Vetch (, one subspecies or another, since it appears to be common world-wide.

    And while they do resemble peas (the flowers do, at any rate), REAL (wild) peas are only found in the Mediterranean/Near East region ( They do share a subfamily, though, along with other nitrogen fixers like clover and alfalfa.

  2. rq

    Entirely possible, since they’re also in the same family as the rest of them. I looked at both and they are incredibly similar in appearance (at least, in internet photos), but I’m voting for the vetch because of the leaf structure. Then again, some Lathyrus(es? -i?) also have leaves that look like that. Too bad there’s only one photo up.

  3. 4

    As it is on the beach, I’m going with Sea Pea, Lathyrus japonicus, also the leaves look waxy, usually a sign of plants living in a high salt environment.

    The Iris is probably Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana.

    I really envy you, Dana. I wish I could live in such a beautiful area with so many interesting natural sights to photograph.

  4. 5

    Well, at least I knew it was either a pea or a vetch! Or, as I call it in my yard, wretched vetch. I favored pea, I think, because it looks like the leaves and flowers are larger than the vetch I’m accustomed to. I’m glad there are folks here more expert than I on matters botanical.

    But really, Dana, you were at Ecola and couldn’t at least favor me with a picture of the Tillamook Rock lighthouse? It is, after all, sitting on a rock!

  5. 6

    It’s Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonicus sp.maritimus, as Adrian says. They are extremely common all up and down the west coast, on dunes and the upper reaches of beaches. And they’re actually edible, although I have never tried them. Yet.

  6. rq

    I think about half of my guesses have been right so far. Apparently my internet plant-identifying skills also need improvement. :)
    (For some reason I’m missing the potentially ‘edible’ ones – the onion and the pea, so far… Apparently my instincts lean towards ‘Hey, that’s pretty!’ rather than ‘Hey, I might need to eat that someday!’ Way to go survival.)

  7. 10

    Hi Susannah
    In the UK we tend to call beach plants “Sea”, as in Sea Kale, Sea Holly, Sea Lavender etc.but Beach seems to be more logical as they aren’t in the sea.

  8. 11

    We’re not always that sensible. High on our beaches, well above the high tide line, we find Cakile edentula, which we call Sea Rocket.

  9. 14

    Your picture looks like one of the Tufted Vetchs, either Vicia cracca, Tufted Vetch or V. villosa, Fodder Vetch. Do you know where the photo was taken?

    The Pea family has flowers varying from very small, like Medicks, through clovers to the large showy Everlasting Pea (which I always think of as a medical complaint!).

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