If you ever wondered how Bird’s-foot-trefoil got its name, you have to wait for the seedpods to appear in late summer.
Photo: Steve Townsend

Scientific name: Lotus corniculatus

Other names: Bacon and Eggs, Granny’s Toenails, Dutchman’s Clogs, Lady’s Slipper.

Conservation status: Not threatened

The Bird’s-foot-trefoils are members of the pea family (Fabaceae), with perhaps the most instantly recognisable being Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus): the orange-red tinge of its yellow flowers gives this plant one of its other common names of Bacon and Eggs.

Flowering between June and September and growing to between 10 and 50 cm tall this is a perennial of low sward grassland, heathland, clifftops and road verges, with a preference for well-drained conditions. It is widely distributed across Britain and Europe, and is found in Asia and Africa. Despite its name of ‘trefoil’ (=three-leaved) and appearing to be trifoliate, there are in fact a further lower pair of leaves that look very much like stipules.

It is the appearance of the long narrow seedpods that give the plant its name. They are arranged on the central stalk in such a way that they look very similar to the claw of a bird as they ripen from green to brown before splitting to release the seeds.

Did you know…?

…Common bird’s-foot-trefoil used to have over 70 common names across the country, with a dozen still in use today (Mabey, 1997). The names are derived from either the slipper-like shape of the flower, its orange and yellow colouring, or the claw-like shape of the seedpods. The names that have fallen into disuse include Love Entangled, recorded from Cornwall (Grigson, 1955).

…The plant’s root system includes a long tap root that can measure up to 3 feet.

More information and references:

Grigson, G., 1955 (facsimile edition printed 1987). The Englishman’s Flora. J.M. Dent & Sons, London.

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: July 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend (above) and Robert Flogaus-Faust (below; [CC BY (]