Birdsfoot Trefoil is a perennial plant and a member of the pea-family. Also known as Lotus corniculatus, it has the characteristic pea-family flowers consisting of a broad upper petal, 2 narrower side petals and 2 lower petals fused at their base to form a boat-like keel. The most common example of this is the sweet pea.
It is abundant in grasslands throughout Scotland and is used as a foraging food for livestock. Other folk names include Eggs and Bacon or Butter and Eggs, due to the varying colours of the flowers, which can be yellow and orange, or sometimes tinged with pinkish red (the bacon).
The leaves of the Birdsfoot-Trefoil have 5 leaflets, but 2 of them are attached to the stem like stipules, while the other 3 form the leaf. The name ‘Trefoil’ derives from this 3-leaflet configuration. The flowers are about 1.5 cm long and have 5 petals, as described, with the whole corolla of the flower forming a butterfly shape, the 2 lateral petals making the ‘wings.’ 2 – 6 flowers grow at the end of each stem forming an umbrella. The stems are sometimes wavy, but mostly straight and slightly hairy.
After flowering the fruits form legumes (pea pods) that stick out sideways in the same umbrella shape begun with the flowers. These turn brown and split open.
This plant is an important food source for many insects and Lepidoptera.