Lotus corniculatus

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Lotus corniculatus
Lotus corniculatus10.JPG
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Lotus
L. corniculatus
Binomial name
Lotus corniculatus
    • Lotus ambiguus Spreng.
    • Lotus arvensis Pers.
    • Lotus balticus Miniaev
    • Lotus carpetanus Lacaita
    • Lotus caucasicus Kuprian.
    • Lotus komarovii Miniaev
    • Lotus major Scop.
    • Lotus olgae Klokov
    • Lotus ruprechtii Miniaev
    • Lotus tauricus Juz.
    • Lotus zhegulensis Klokov

Lotus corniculatus is a flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae, native to grasslands in temperate Eurasia and North Africa. Common names include common bird's-foot trefoil,[2] eggs and bacon,[3] birdsfoot deervetch,[4] and just bird's-foot trefoil,[5] though the latter name is often also applied to other members of the genus.

It is a perennial herbaceous plant, similar in appearance to some clovers. The name 'bird's foot' refers to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk. Five leaflets are present, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name 'trefoil'. It is often used as forage and is widely used as food for livestock due to its nonbloating properties.


  • Lotus corniculatus subsp. callunetorum (Üksip) Tzvelev (synonym: Lotus callunetorum (Üksip) Miniaev)[6]
  • Lotus corniculatus subsp. corniculatus (synonym: Lotus ambiguus Besser ex Spreng.)[7]


The height of the plant is variable, from 5 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 inches), occasionally more where supported by other plants; the stems can reach up to 50 cm (20 in) long. It is typically sprawling at the height of the surrounding grassland. It can survive fairly close grazing, trampling, and mowing. It is most often found in sandy soils. It flowers from June to September. The flowers develop into small pea-like pods or legumes.

The plant had many common English names in Britain, which are now mostly out of use. These names were often connected with the yellow and orange colour of the flowers, e.g. 'butter and eggs'. One name that is still used is eggs and bacon (or bacon and eggs).[8]

Lotus corniculatus flowers in southeastern Minnesota (late July 2016)

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Lotus corniculatus has a broad distribution worldwide.[5][9] It is common everywhere in Britain.[10] It is abundant in Ireland,[11] and also in Northern Ireland, including County Londonderry, County Down, and County Antrim.[12] Habitats include old fields, grassy places,[13] and roadsides.[12]


It is used in agriculture as a forage plant, grown for pasture, hay, and silage. It is a high quality forage that does not cause bloat in ruminants.[14] Taller-growing cultivars have been developed for this. It may be used as an alternative to alfalfa in poor soils.

A double-flowered variety is grown as an ornamental plant. It is regularly included as a component of wildflower mixes in Europe. It can also prevent soil erosion and provide a good habitat for wildlife.[14]

Fresh bird's-foot trefoil contains cyanogenic glycosides,[15] which release small amounts of hydrogen cyanide when macerated. This is not normally poisonous to humans, though, as the dose is very low, and the metabolization of cyanide is relatively quick.[16] Condensed tannins are also present in L. corniculatus.[17]

In the traditional medicine of the Sannio regio of Italy, the diluted infusions were used for anxiety, insomnia, and exhaustion.[18]


The flowers are mostly visited by bumblebees.[19] In the Chicago Region, mostly non-native bees have been observed visiting the flowers, including Andrena wilkella, Anthidium oblongatum, Apis mellifera and Megachile rotundata.[20] The native bees Bombus impatiens and Megachile relativa have also been observed visiting birdsfoot trefoil flowers, though the latter only rarely.[20]

The plant is an important nectar source for many insects and is also used as a larval food plant by many species of Lepidoptera such as six-spot burnet and the silver-studded blue.[21] It is a host plant for the wood white butterfly, Leptidea sinapis.[22]

Invasive species[edit]

Birdsfoot trefoil is an invasive species in many parts of North America and Australia. It has been commonly planted along roadsides for erosion control or pastures for forage and then spreads into natural areas.[4][20] Once it has established in an area, it can outcompete native species.[20] The use of prescribed fire is not an effective management tool against Lotus corniculatus and herbicide is recommended to control it.[20]



  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  2. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  3. ^ "Bird's-foot trefoil". Plantlife. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  4. ^ a b "Plant Fact Sheet, Birdsfoot Trefoil" (PDF). plants.usda.gov. United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  5. ^ a b "Lotus corniculatus". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  6. ^ "Lotus callunetorum (Üksip) Miniaev | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  7. ^ "Lotus ambiguus Besser ex Spreng. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  8. ^ Collins English Dictionary
  9. ^ "Lotus corniculatus L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanical Gardens Kew. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  10. ^ Martin, K. The Concise British Flora in Colour.
  11. ^ Parnell, J. and Curtis, T. 2012. Webb's An Irish Flora. Cork University Press ISBN 978-185918-4783
  12. ^ a b Hackney, P. (Ed) 1992. Stewart & Corry's Flora of the North-east of Ireland, Third Edition. Institute of Irish Studies,The Queen's University of Belfast. ISBN 0-85389-446-9
  13. ^ Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and Warburg, E.F. 1968. Excursion Flora of the British Isles, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-04656-4
  14. ^ a b Heuzé V., Tran G., Nozière P., Lebas F., 2016. Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/280 Last updated on February 8, 2016, 13:52
  15. ^ "Lotus corniculatus Bird's Foot Trefoil PFAF Plant Database".
  16. ^ Scriber, J. Mark (1 January 1978). "Cyanogenic Glycosides in Lotus corniculatus. Their Effect upon Growth, Energy Budget, and Nitrogen Utilization of the Southern Armyworm, Spodoptera eridania". Oecologia. 34 (2): 143–155. doi:10.1007/BF00345163. JSTOR 4215630. PMID 28309546. S2CID 189827997.
  17. ^ http://www.grassland.org.nz/publications/nzgrassland_publication_492.pdf
  18. ^ Guarino, Carmine (2008-08-30). "Ethnobotanical Study of the Sannio Area, Campania, Southern Italy" (PDF). Ethnobotany Research and Applications. 6: 255. doi:10.17348/era.6.0.255-317. ISSN 1547-3465.
  19. ^ Van Der Kooi, C. J.; Pen, I.; Staal, M.; Stavenga, D. G.; Elzenga, J. T. M. (2015). "Competition for pollinators and intra-communal spectral dissimilarity of flowers". Plant Biology. 18 (1): 56–62. doi:10.1111/plb.12328. PMID 25754608.
  20. ^ a b c d e Wilhelm, Gerould; Rericha, Laura (2017). Flora of the Chicago Region: A Floristic and Ecological Synthesis. Indiana Academy of Sciences.
  21. ^ Thomas, C. D.; Glen, S. W. T.; Lewis, O. T.; Hill, J. K.; Blakeley, D. S. (1999-02-01). "Population differentiation and conservation of endemic races: the butterfly, Plebejus argus". Animal Conservation. 2 (1): 15–21. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1795.1999.tb00044.x. ISSN 1469-1795. S2CID 44647405.
  22. ^ Clarke, S. A.; Green, D. G.; Joy, J.; Wollen, K.; Butler, I. (2011-04-01). "Leptidea sinapis (Wood White butterfly) egg-laying habitat and adult dispersal studies in Herefordshire". Journal of Insect Conservation. 15 (1-2): 23–35. doi:10.1007/s10841-010-9300-8. ISSN 1366-638X.

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