The birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is a flowering plant in the pea family of Fabaceae, native to Europe and Asia. It is also known as common bird’s foot trefoil, eggs and bacon, and birdsfoot deervetch. One of the more evocative names is granny’s toenails due to the appearance of the claw-like seed pods.

The Latin species name corniculatus means “crescent shaped” in reference to the shape of the leaves. However, the name ‘bird’s foot’ is a reference to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk.

Birdsfoot Trefoil Identification

This weed is an annual plant growing to about 5-20cm tall, but can also grow to a maximum of around 50cm when other plants support the stems. The stems are erect and hairless, growing from a basal rosette of glossy green leaves that are divided into three finger-like segments.

The stems terminate into pea-like flowers and have the effect of many little birds’ feet. They have a yellow and orange hue, and as its common names in the UK would suggest, the ‘eggs and bacon’ and ‘butter and eggs’ is down to the colour.

Yellow flowers of Birdsfoot trefoil also called Birds-Foot Deervetch in grass, Lotus corniculatus.

Where Does Birdsfoot Trefoil Grow?

A perennial weed of the ground, common bird’s foot trefoil is indigenous to Europe, but it is widely spread around the temperate regions of the globe, where it is considered an invasive species.

It favours moist, nutrient-rich soils sheltered from full sun, such as shaded outcrops, woodlands, grassy places and forest edges. It is also commonly found in agricultural and other grassland areas.

Bird’s foot trefoil is widely spread in the UK, especially on chalky soils. This plant often appears on roadsides, open spaces, shaded woodlands, and dry or acidic pastures. It thrives in a wide range of environments, including disturbed areas and can easily be grown from seeds spread by wind and water, hence why it has become a nuisance weed in many places.

Lotus corniculatus - english birds-foot trefoil, yellow blossom in summer

Birdsfoot Trefoil As a Food Plant

Lotus corniculatus is a common food plant for many insects, including the caterpillars of the cabbage butterfly (“Pieris rapae”) and the common blue (Polyommatus icarus), which feed exclusively on birdsfoot trefoil in the wild during the spring before pupating for metamorphosis into adults.

Bird’s foot trefoil is also the perfect source of nectar for bees and other pollinating insects, and an important source of forage plant used to feed many different types of livestock.

Greater Birds-foot-trefoil or Lotus pedunculatus herbaceous perennial plant with golden yellow flowers

Is Birdsfoot Trefoil Poisonous?

Bird’s foot trefoil should not be eaten, as all parts of the plant contain cyanogenic glycosides (hydrogen cyanide). The toxicity of this, if used excessively by humans, can cause death.

Additionally, it is harmful to humans because its sap causes dermatitis in susceptible individuals and can also cause allergic rhinitis. The plant may also irritate the skin if touched or rubbed up against. Inflammation and rashes may develop on skin contact with this weed.

Common birds foot trefoil flower or Lotus corniculatus

How To Control Birdsfoot Trefoil

The best way to control bird’s foot trefoil is to remove it from your garden. The best way to do this is by digging up the entire plant and dropping the tubers into a suitable place. Bird’s foot trefoil is also fairly easy to pull out with a trowel. This can be done even in spring, as long as you start early enough. Birdsfoot tubers can be quite large; just make sure you get all of them, or else winter will come, and birds will be eating them again!

Sources and References

  1. Lotus Corniculatus – pfaf.org
  2. Common Bird’s-Foot-Trefoil – dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk

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