Lotus corniculatus L. - Bird.s foot trefoil.

Taxonomic position.

Family Leguminosae Endl., genus Lotus L.


Bird's foot trefoil, upright trefoil, common lotus.

Biology and morphology.

Glabrous to sparsely pubescent perennial plant, though not a long-lived perennial; lifespan ranges from two to four years. The plant root system consists of a deep tap root with numerous secondary roots, which have a good lateral spread. Roots can produce new shoots. Growth form ranges from prostrate to erect with numerous stems (10-60 cm) arising from a basal branch; well-developed crown and branches arise from leaf axils. Leaves are pentafoliate, alternately on short stalks with the two leaflets at the petiole base resembling stipules. Inflorescences have up to eight flowers. Umbel-like cymes are at the end of long, axillary branches. The calyx is a dentate tube, and the yellow, five-petalled corolla is often tinged red. The flowering period is indeterminate; therefore, seed is set over an extended period in summer. Seed pods, 2-5 cm long, contain l5-20 seeds attached to the ventral suture; the seeds are released by a sudden split of the pod along both sutures after one to two weeks of ripening, during which the pods change from green to brown. The seeds vary from round to oval in shape and from greenish yellow to dark brown in color. Flowers in June-September. The self-sterile plants are cross-pollinated, mainly by honey bees. 2n=24.


Occurs throughout the European part of Russia, all of the Crimea, rarely in the Caucasus, the mountainous part of Turkmenia, Northwestern Kazakhstan, and the Caspian region. Occurs as an invasive species in Western Siberia and the Far East.


Occurs in meadows, in fields, along rivers, along roads, along field edges, and on slopes. A pioneer, perennial legume adapted to wet, acidic, infertile soil conditions. Occurs as high as the middle mountain level.

Utilization and economic value.

Valuable forage plant, introduced into culture, long-lived. It does especially well in infertile, poorly drained soils, and those that are difficult to cultivate. Bird.s foot trefoil is used as an excellent non-bloating forage and is good as pasture, hay, or silage for horses and cattle. The presence of condensed tannins in the leaves and stems prevent bloating in ruminants. Tolerant to grazing. Has a moderate degree of tolerance to soil salinity. Moderate degree of drought resistance. It tolerates waterlogged soils and poor soil drainage. Improves soil structure. It is an excellent source of nectar and pollen for honey bees.

Literature cited:

Brezhnev D.D., Korovina O.N. 1980. Wild relatives of the cultivated plants of flora of the USSR. L.: Kolos, 376 pp. (in Russian).
Galushko A.I. 1980. Flora of the Northern Caucasus: A field guide. Vol. 2. Rostov na Donu, 350 pp. (in Russian).
Grossheim A.A. 1952. Genus Lotus. Flora of the Caucasus. Vol. 5. M.-L.: Academy of Science of the USSR, p. 225-230. (in Russian).
Hulten E., Fries M. 1986. Atlas of Northern European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. Vol. 1-3. Konigstein, p. 1172.
Mukhina M.A., Stankevich A.K., eds. 1993. Flora of Cultivated Plants. Vol. 13. Perennial Leguminous Grasses M: Kolos, 336 pp.
Nikitin V.V., Geldihanov A.M. 1988. Field Guide of Plants of Turkmenia. L.: Nauka, 680 p.
Ovchinnikov P.N., ed. 1978. Flora of Tajikistan. Vol. 5. L.: Nauka, 678 pp. (in Russian).
Pavlov N.B., ed. 1961. Flora of Kazakhstan. Vol. 5. Alma Ata: AN Kaz SSR, 515 pp. (in Russian).
Phyodorov A.A., ed. 1987. Flora of the European part of the USSR. Vol. 6. 254 pp. (in Russian).
Shishkin V.K., ed. 1945. Flora of the USSR. Vol. 11. Genus Lotus. M.-L.: USSR, p. 284-297. (in Russian).
Vvedenskiy A.I., ed. 1981. Plants of Asia Minor: A field guide. Vol. 6. Tashkent: Fan, 394 pp. (in Russian).

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