Bird's-Foot Trefoil

Photo of bird's-foot trefoil, close-up of flower cluster.
Scientific Name
Lotus corniculatus
Fabaceae (beans, peas)

Many-branched perennial; the branches lie on the ground but their ends ascend. Flowers in umbels, terminal, with the typical configuration of pea flowers, bright golden yellow. Blooms May–September. Leaves compound, with 3 leaflets (a terminal and 2 opposite) some distance below. Two basal leaves are actually stipules, not technically part of the compound leaf, but added to the true leaflets it looks like there are 5 total leaflets. All are variably oblong. Fruits are beaked, slender, upright pods bearing 5-14 seeds.


Stem length: 6-24 inches.

Where To Find
image of Bird's Foot Trefoil Distribution Map

Scattered statewide, especially in the northern part of the state.

Fields, roadsides, waste places, and other disturbed areas. A native of Europe, it was spread widely in our state by the Missouri Department of Transportation to prevent erosion at highway construction sites. This species has a worldwide distribution; it is planted widely as a low-growing groundcover.

Worldwide and in Missouri, this plant is economically important as a forage and cover crop and for soil stabilization. As a legume, it introduces nitrogen into the soil, so farmers plant it to improve soil fertility.

Many nonnative plants have been introduced to our country in efforts to prevent erosion. Some species become invasive nightmares, infesting and devastating natural ecosystems. Others, like this plant, do not invade native landscapes so readily.

Media Gallery
Similar Species
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!