Popular Types Species And Cultivars
Despite its reputation as an invasive plant, the birds-foot trefoil is a popular choice for quick ground cover, attracting bees and hummingbirds, and providing non-bloating forage for livestock. Aside from the standard variety, there are two subspecies of note: the Lotus callunetorum and the Lotus ambiguus. There are also cultivars developed to grow taller than usual to ensure easier grazing for livestock.
History And Origins Of Birds
The Birds-Foot Trefoil was first discovered in the grasslands of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. However, it has since been introduced in other parts of the world and commonly grows around the UK. The plant is sometimes considered an invasive species, especially in North America and Australia, due to its creeping, weed-like characteristics.
Cultivation Advice Trefoil Lotus Corniculatus Birds Foot
- Sow from early spring to late summer.
- The seed has a tough coating which benefits from scarification. You soak the seed overnight or line a jar with sandpaper and shake to scratch the seeds.
- The seed can be tray sown but best direct to the growing location which should be lightly raked and weed free.
- The seed is slow to germinate and slow to develop at first, therefore sow thickly to avoid being overwhelmed by other faster growing weeds.
- Lightly damp down the soil and rake in after sowing.
- Germination will take between 2-4 weeks dependant on conditions.
- The plants will readily re-seed once established.
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How To Propagate Birds
Here are a few quick tips for propagating your birds-foot trefoil plants.
- Start by removing the outer coating of the seed pod by rubbing it gently with sandpaper. You can also do this by pre-soaking seeds for 24 hours in warm water.
- If you are sowing seeds into a grassy meadow or similar area, remove old grass with a rake and apply seeds to the soils surface.
- You can sow seeds in a pot indoors as well. Do so around six to eight weeks before the last frost in springtime, and then transfer to the outdoor area where you wish to plant your birds-foot trefoil.
Everything You Need To Know About Birds
The birds-foot trefoil is a plant with yellow flowers that often grows wild in meadows and pastures. Also known as Lotus corniculatus, this hardy plant is similar in appearance to clover and frequently used to feed cows and other livestock. Keep reading to discover the uses of birds-foot trefoil, along with symbolism, benefits, and more. Whether youre using it for ground cover, attracting pollinators, or adding a touch of color to your garden, well share everything you need to know about this low-growing perennial plant.
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How To Grow And Care For Birds
Birds foot trefoil is an easy plant to grow due to its robust nature and ability to survive everything from livestock trampling to infertile soil conditions. You can plant this species in fields for quick spreading ground cover or in the garden as an ornamental plant.
However, this plant is not a common choice for hanging beds or gardens due to its rapid growth and creeping nature. Gardeners should be careful when adding birds-foot trefoil in with other plants, as it can outcompete and prevent other species from thriving. Here are a few key facts to know if you decide to grow birds-foot trefoil.
- Suitable USDA hardiness zones: The birds-foot trefoil grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3-9.
- Soil preferences: The species grows well in many soil conditions, from dry and sandy to moist. The ideal pH for this plant is 6.2-6.5 or higher, though it can adapt to lower pH environments. It also adapts well to compacted, poorly-drained, soils and can tolerate salt.
- Light requirements: Birds-foot trefoil grows well in full sun or a mix of sunny and shady conditions.
- Watering frequency: As this is a wildflower, Birds-foot trefoil can tolerate moist or dry conditions. After sowing the seeds, mist once a day for three weeks. From there, water them once a week in the summer months if conditions are dry.
- Fertilizing Needs: This plant can tolerate infertile soils and does not have any specific fertilization requirements.
Birdsfoot Trefoil An Underutilized Pasture Legume
Date: June 11, 2020 – Included in Issue: 2020.11By: Keith Johnson
Article is in memory of Henry Mayo, Purdue University Extension Sheep Specialist and a birdsfoot trefoil advocate.
You dont see birdsfoot trefoil in many Indiana pastures. This perennial legume is in full bloom now with obvious bright yellow-orange flowers. The positive characteristics of this forage makes this legume worthy of consideration. Overgrazing must be avoided if birdsfoot trefoil is to survive. Basal leaves must not be grazed if birdsfoot trefoil is to remain in the pasture. With many livestock producers utilizing rotational stocking and better awareness that overgrazing should be avoided, this forage has a place in many Indiana pastures.
Information that follows about birdsfoot trefoil is from the Purdue Forage Field Guide with some modifications. Pictures were provided by the Purdue University Crop Diagnostic Training and Research Center.
Minimum Soil Requirements: Somewhat poorly drained, medium fertility, pH 6.0-6.8.
Yellow blossoms appear with long day/short night hours.
Leaf arrangement of birdsfoot trefoil.
Birdsfoot trefoil seedpod with immature seed.
Seed Characteristics: Seeds per pound: 370,000. Emergence time: 7 days. Optimal germination temperature: 68°F. Seeding dates: March 1-May 1 or August 1-September 1. Pure live seed per acre: 4-6 pounds. Inoculate seed with a specific rhizobia bacteria.
Birdsfoot trefoil seed.
Distribution: The Upper Midwest and Northeast USA.
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Botanical Characteristics And Related Nicknames
Through the years, this plants unique botanical characteristics have gained it a few interesting names. Its clustered shape resembles a birds foot, while one of its most peculiar nicknames, eggs, and bacon, comes from its vibrant yellow and dark orange flowers. Despite the plants bold visual characteristics, its flowers often have no scent.
Don’t Be Fooled By These Look
- Butter and eggs, Linaria vulgaris – The leaves of butter and eggs are single, long, and narrow and are not in clusters of three as in birdsfoot trefoil.
- Yellow sweetclover, Melilotus officinalis – Yellow sweetclover has smaller flowers than birdsfoot trefoil and they grow along the stem, instead of in a flat-topped cluster like birdsfoot trefoil.
- Other native and non-native legumes – There are many legume species present in Minnesota. Additional examples are non-native clovers and non-native medics which have leaves with finely toothed edges as opposed to the smooth edges of birdsfoot trefoil.
This species is not regulated. Birdsfoot trefoil has been assessed through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s noxious weed regulation evaluation process. In the assessment document, it was recommended that birdsfoot trefoil should not be regulated to continue to allow its use in agronomic grazing systems. In terms of voluntary actions, it recommended that people do not intentionally seed birdsfoot trefoil in fields adjacent to native prairie management areas and do not include birdsfoot trefoil in wildlife or deer seed mixes. These voluntary actions will limit the chances of birdsfoot trefoil spreading into natural areas.
Birdsfoot trefoil forms dense mats that shade and chokes out native vegetation. It can degrade the prairie habitat.
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Uses And Benefits Of Birds
While the birds-foot trefoil is most commonly used as forage for cows, the plant has had other uses throughout history. In fact, herbalists in the Sannio region of Italy traditionally diluted the flowers to create a remedy for sleep troubles, anxiety, and a lack of energy.
These days, the birds-foot trefoil is not used in food and drinks, likely due to its trace quantities of cyanogenic glycosides. This means the plant produces a low dose of cyanide when crushed. Since the amount is low, the plant is not considered poisonous to humans. However, consuming any part of the birds-foot trefoil is not recommended.
Birds-foot trefoil is occasionally grown as an ornamental plant in the garden. However, it is primarily utilized for its ability to attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds, as well as a range of animals from deer to turkeys and rabbits. It has a non-bloating quality for livestock, which is why it makes such a popular forage crop. It is also often grown on roadsides to reduce the effects of erosion or as part of a wildflower mix.
The Cultural Significance Of Birds
Aside from its sinister meaning in the language of flowers, the birds-foot trefoil does not have many commonly known myths or folklore attached to it. Its origins date back to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and it grew in popularity for its ability to endure difficult conditions, mitigate erosion, and attract bumblebees and other pollinators.
Due to its primarily functional use, the birds-foot trefoil does not have a significant history in religion, art, or literature. However, a bit of digging reveals a few notable examples, like the Birds Foot Trefoil Flower Fairy written and illustrated in the childrens book Flower Fairies of the Summer by Cicely Mary Barker, which came out in 1925.
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