Birdsfoot Trefoil – Lotus corniculatus

Late In July, I started noticing these little yellow flowers popping up in the lawn and around the perimeter of the property. At first it was a few, then it was all over. From a bit of a distance, perhaps 4 yards, it seemed like it should be easier to find a perfectly photogenic specimen.

It wasn’t. When I take a set of specimen photos, I aim for decent pics of the bloom at its peak, the leaves and stalks — all close enough to see texture and nuances. Unfortunately for me, the plant was weaving and trailing through other plants. Getting the clean shots I wanted was tricky.

Until I saw the images, I was unaware of the subtle amber lines on the top petal, nor had I recognized its snapdragon-like shape.

Birdsfoot Trefoil - Lotus corniculatus 1
Identification required a bit of  digging and multiple sources. At first, I was thinking that it might be a monkey flower of some kind, but monkey flower produces a tubular​ blossom and has totally different leaves and growth. Pea or orchid were the next closest potentials, and I thought that because of the shape of the flower.

Turns out it’s a pea. Moreover, it’s an invasive little pea. got me in the right family with a potential match of Chilean Bird’s Foot Trefoil aka Lotus wrangelianus, but I wasn’t convinced based on the pictures on USDA. There was a higher leaf to flower ratio and the flowers didn’t seem to cluster like my specimen.

I looked up Lotus in “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast”, and in the listing of Big Deervetch aka Lotus crassifolius, it suggested Lotus corniculatus might be the match. After looking it up in the USDA, I’m convinced that’s a match. The leaves are compound, grow off slightly red stems, and have a whorled to basal growth pattern. Note the hair-like tendrils — these were one of the characteristics that determined the identification.

Birdsfoot Trefoil - Lotus corniculatus 2
Turns out the species is invasive and originally from Europe. It’s made a home in most of the U.S. and is even used as a groundcover — on purpose.


Bush, Tony. “Plant Fact Sheet: Birdsfoot Trefoil.” USDA NCRS, Feb. 2002. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

“Lotus Corniculatus.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

“Plants Profile for Lotus Corniculatus (bird’s-foot Trefoil).” Plants Profile for Lotus Corniculatus (bird’s-foot Trefoil). USDA, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

Pojar, Jim, A. MacKinnon, and Paul B. Alaback. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. 20th ed. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Pub., 1994. Print. Page 198

Close matches:

Discover Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2016. Sources:

“Plants Profile for Lotus Wrangelianus (Chilean Bird’s-foot Trefoil).” Plants Profile for Lotus Wrangelianus (Chilean Bird’s-foot Trefoil). USDA, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.


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