Friday 6 May 2016

Wildflower of the Month: Bird's-foot Trefoil

Bird's-foot Trefoil flowers opening up
Image courtesy of John Crellin
Where it’s found
Right across Britain, apart from a few high peaks and bogs in Scotland; in lawns and meadows, on sand dunes and rocky ledges, on road verges and old building sites… Distribution map here

What it looks like and where it got its name
Yellow pea-type flowers, flushed red when young, hence the old country name ‘Eggs and Bacon’. Also known as 'Granny's Toenails', Craw's-taes (in Scots) and Kattikloo (on Shetland).

Trefoil refers to three leaves and the Bird's-foot bit refers to the shape of the seed pods, which do look a bit like a bird's foot. This plant was named in pre-internet days when people had to make their own entertainment...

Seed-pods looking like a bird's foot
Image courtesy of John Crellin
Interesting facts:
As a member of the Pea family, it can fix nitrogen in the soil – so it can make its own food! This is how Bird’s-foot Trefoil is able to grow on impoverished soils.

This plant contains small amounts of cyanide when fresh – not enough to hurt a human but maybe enough to deter a grazing snail? 

Once dried, it’s safe to use as a fodder crop.

Traditional uses
Bird's-foot trefoil has been used as a dye plant; in herbalism, for nervous complaints; and it is much loved by bee-keepers: bees make great honey from this plant!  

Importance for wildlife:
Essential food plant for the young of many butterflies and moths, eg Common Blue butterfly and Six-spot Burnet moth.

A carpet of bird's-foot Trefoil
Image courtesy of John Crellin
In Scotland, three of our scarcest bee species are also believed to be completely dependent on the pollen of Bird’s-foot Trefoil: the pine-wood mason bee, the mountain mason bee and the wall mason bee.

More info here on Bird’s-foot Trefoil and its importance to wildlife in Scotland. 

I'll be chatting to Louise White on BBC Radio Scotland's 'Out for the Weekend' this afternoon about our Wildflower of the Month and encouraging listeners to watch out for Bird’s-foot Trefoil coming into flower in May. [LM: the interview is here, starts at 1.34]. 

Please share your photos of Bird's-foot Trefoil by tweeting them to @BSBIbotany using the hashtags #WildfloweroftheMonth and #outfortheweekend 

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