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Birdsfoot trefoil

Quick facts

Birdsfoot trefoil is an invasive species. It should be reported.

  • Birdsfoot trefoil is found in prairies and open areas, such as roadsides.

  • It forms dense mats, choking and shading out most other vegetation.

  • Prescribed burns increase germination, making it troublesome in native prairies.

  • See the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommendations for reporting invasive species.

How to identify birdsfoot trefoil

close up of yellow birdsfoot trefoil flower
  • Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is a perennial herbaceous forb, 12–24 inches tall.
  • The clover-like plant has a sprawling growth pattern.
  • It can reach up to 2 feet long.

Stem

  • Stem can be either lying along the ground or semi-erect.
  • Mostly hairless with many alternate branches.

Leaves

  • Three clover-like compound leaflets (1/2 inch long) on a short stem with two additional stalkless leaflets at the base of the stem.

Flowers

  • Yellow, pea-like, 1/2-inch-long flowers, typically in flat-topped clusters of 2–12, sometimes tinged with red.
  • Blooms most of the summer.

Seeds

  • 1"-long brown-black seed pods (1-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches long) are produced in clusters, resembling a bird’s foot.

Roots

  • Taproot
close up of birdsfoot trefoil three leaf cluster
Birdsfoot trefoil has three compound leaflets
Dry birdsfoot trefoil yellow and pink flower cluster with seed pods.
Birdsfoot trefoil flower seed pods

Angela Gupta, Amy Rager and Megan M. Weber, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2021

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