The more I see of this rather attractive little plant, the more I grow to appreciate it. Now I seem to spot it all over the place, in meadows, woodland, road verges and gardens.
In fact Lotus corniculatus, commonly known as ‘Bird's Foot-Trefoil’ is well distributed throughout the UK and Ireland and has adapted to thrive on both damp clay and sandy soils, on sand dunes in coastal regions and even on limestone rocks.
This creeping perennial has trailing, short stems. The height of the plant can vary from 5 to 20cm (2 to 8in), but the flower stems can grow up to 40cm (16in) high depending on the surrounding grass sward height. The plant has a deep, branched root system and tolerates both wet and moderately dry conditions.
The bright yellow fragrant flowers can be seen in blossom from the end of April through until mid September. They are an even, warm yellow colour when they are fully opened and form a cluster of pea flowers at the end of a short stem, and take on an orange hue as they age.
These long-lived perennials are ideal for gravel gardens, meadows and other naturalised planting schemes. As a legume Bird’s-foot-trefoil is a very effective green manure for weed suppression, it is also nitrogen fixing.
Bird's Foot-Trefoil is ideal for a wildlife garden. The flowers provide an abundant source of nectar for bees and butterflies, each flower supplying enough nectar for several visits.
Birdsfoot Trefoil establishes relatively easily from seed sown any time of the year. The most reliable establishment is obtained from spring to autumn sowings into a warm soil.
If it is important to have the maximum germination rate in the shortest period of time you could try a light scarification. The seeds have a tough outer coating and can be scarified by shaking the seed in a jam jar lined with sandpaper or rubbing the seed gently between two sheets of sand paper. Alternatively the seds can be pre-soaked in warm water for a day and then sown in situ.
Birdsfoot Trefoil may be introduced into grassland providing the area is well prepared. When sowing the seed directly into existing grass the ground should be lightly cleared of old grass thatch to expose sufficient soil as to create a seedbed.
The existing grass, depending on the size of the site, must be raked (use a spring tine rake), topped or grazed very short then repeatedly harrowed to expose sufficient soil as to create a seedbed. The seeds should be surface sown and the area lightly rolled to consolidate the ground to ensure the seeds are in good contact with the soil. The seed will germinate after two to four weeks when the temperatures are around 15 to 20°C (59 to 68°F).
Seed can also be sown in pots or trays. Sow on the surface of the soil and keep pots in a cold frame. When seedlings are big enough to handle, they can be pricked out and grown on in individual pots until they are ready to plant out in late spring.
Once established, the plants are fast growers, which is useful if you want to cover a large area quite quickly. Prompt dead-heading will help keep clumps smaller.
Wildflower / Wildlife Garden, Meadows, Low Maintenance, Gravel Gardens, Coastal Gardens, Green Manure.
Green manure: Sow March to September
As a legume, Bird’s-foot-trefoil is a very effective green manure for weed suppression it is also nitrogen fixing. To use this wildflower as a green manure it should be cut, allowed to wilt and then rotavated into the soil. Bird’s-foot-trefoil can grow on very poor soil, it benefits the surrounding plants because of its nitrogen fixing properties.
Birdsfoot Trefoil flowers provide a vital nectar source to long tongued species of moth, butterfly and bumble bee. This is a good partnership as it promotes cross pollination which benefits the flower. Butterflies love this native wildflower and its presence help attract some of our rare varieties such as the Clouded Yellow which is a migrant butterfly attracted to this flower. The Wood White butterfly also drinks the nectar from Bird’s-foot-trefoil as does the Common Blue, who hatch out on this plant. It is also the food plant for the larva of the Burnet moth.
This perennial legume also offers foliage and seed for quail, dove, ducks, rabbits, deer, and livestock. Birdsfoot Trefoil will grow under a variety of soil conditions. It is drought resistant and salt tolerant.
In addition to encouraging biodiversity there are great advantages to growing this wildflower in meadows to be grazed by livestock. Sheep that graze on Bird’s-foot-trefoil seem to suffer less from parasitic infection and it appears to relieve bloat in cattle.
Birdsfoot trefoil has a distinct crown with several stems but no stolons: it is used for forage in a similar manner to lucerne (alfalfa) but it must not be cut too close as regrowth comes from lateral buds well above the soil. It is suitable for soils too poor for red clover or lucerne.
Planting Date: In spring or summer after danger of frost.
Planting Rate: 7 kilos per acres or 0.5 kilo to 100 square metres in game plots.
Planting Depth: Seed should be surface sown and covered lightly with soil.
Days to Maturity - This is a perennial plant that grows slowly after emergence but will offer game forage and cover in 90 to 120 days.
Lotus corniculatus, Birdsfoot trefoil is a common flowering plant native to grassland temperate Eurasia and North Africa. A number of taller growing cultivars have been developed for agriculture while a double flowered variety has been developed for growing as an ornamental plant.
Birdsfoot trefoil can be distinguished from the other common species -
Lotus pedunculatus ‘Greater birdsfoot trefoil’ in having a smaller stature, lighter green foliage and a solid stem. They produce spreading shoots and are more suited to wet soils but establishment is slow.
Lotus tenuis ‘Slender or narrow leaf trefoil’ can stand greater soil salinity than almost any other legume.
The genus name, Lotus, is Latin for ‘elegant.’
The species is from the Latin corniculatus meaning “having a horned capsule”
The family name Fabaceae comes from faba the Latin word for the broad bean, and fabaceus meaning 'resembling the broad bean'.
‘Lady’s Shoes and Stockings’, Crow-toes, ‘God Almighty’s thumb and finger’ - the names this plant has attracted are remarkable both for their number and - there are more than 70 - and for their diversity. Many people know this flower as ‘bacon and eggs’ which refers to the vibrant red and yellow/orange colour of the flowers when they begin to open.
The most common name is Bird's-foot Trefoil (or similar spellings such as birdsfoot), though this name is often also used for other members of the genus. In North America it is known as ‘Birdfoot Deervetch’.
Once pollinated, the flowers go on to produce several cylindrical seedpods which attach to the stem at a single point forming an unmistakable ‘bird’s foot’ shape.
There are five leaflets, but the central three are held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name trefoil, meaning 'three leaved'
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 500 seeds Family Fabaceae Genus Lotus Species corniculatus Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Common Name Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Other Common Names Bacon and Eggs, Birdfoot Deervetch, Yellow Trefoil. Other Language Names IR. Crobh éin Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Bright yellow fragrant flowers Natural Flower Time End of April through until mid September. Height 5 to 20cm (2 to 8in), Spread The flower stems can grow up to 40cm (16in) high Soil Most soils Time to Sow Spring to early autumn sowings Germination 15 to 20°C (59 to 68°F).