Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Key facts about Birdsfoot Trefoil
- Height: 10-50cm
- Flowering Time: May – September
- Flower colour: Bright golden yellow flowers with red buds
- Growth habit: Low growing, prostrate perennial plant.
- Habitat: Loves living in grassland with lots of sunshine. Birdsfoot Trefoil is common throughout the UK the only soil type it struggles with is very acidic soil.
- Appears in: All Meadowmat varieties (it’s just too good to miss out of any seed mix!)
As sure as eggs is eggs you will have seen Birdsfoot Trefoil growing somewhere. You may know it by its other name “eggs and bacon”. A very sensible name since the yellow flowers are often streaked with red or orange and the buds are nearly always red.
Why is it called “Birdsfoot”? The answer to that question lies in the seed heads. Each seedhead consists of three, skinny pods (hence trefoil) and they look just like a bird’s foot. Break one of the pods and seeds will ping out in all directions.
Also with three lobes is the triplet of leaves part way up the stem. Leaves near to the ground have five leaflets.
Leaves look a little bit like pea or vetch leaves. Not surprisingly since Birdsfoot trefoil is also a legume and can fix nitrogen in the soil
Uses for Birdsfoot Trefoil
Beekeepers adore this plant and for good reason. Not only does it have a long flowering season, but the pollen is extremely rich in protein. A vital source of nutrients for baby bees of all species. It is also the larval food plant of the Common Blue, Green Hairstreak and Dingy Skipper butterflies.
All parts of this plant are poisonous to people – but only if you eat them. I’m given to understand that birdsfoot trefoil makes an excellent anti-inflammatory dressing for skin conditions.
Another traditional use for Birdsfoot Trefoil flowers is to make an orangy-yellow coloured dye. My favourite use for this plant though is a little more mystical. The flowers are traditionally woven into wreaths on midsummer night. We don’t know why – perhaps because the 3-lobed leaves remind people of the holy trinity. I suspect the custom might be older than Christianity though. Maybe the flowers were used as part of a celebration for the simple reason that they’re pretty?
In the garden, Birdsfoot Trefoil is pretty grown in pots but excels itself as part of a species rich lawn. Its low growing, tolerates occasional mowing and provides a cheery splash of colour all summer long. Birdsfoot trefoil also makes a good green manure. Grow it in your veggie beds over the winter and then dig the leaves into the soil before sowing your food crops. It will help keep the soil in good heart.
Why grow Birdsfoot Trefoil?
We’ve included Birdsfoot Trefoil in every variety of Meadowmat for lots of good reasons
- Easy to grow
- Bee friendly
- Butterfly friendly
- Low growing
- Not too fussy about soil type
- Copes with dappled shade
- Tolerates mowing well
- Frost hardy
There’s a Meadowmat variety for almost any garden or landscaping project. Take a look at the selection to find out more.