An abundant, perennial herb with a woody base, bird’s-foot-trefoil is a pretty and common site on many of our sand dune systems. It is an important source of food as it is rich in nectar, so is very beneficial to pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies and it is also foraged by grazing livestock.
It can vary in form, being ascending, decumbent or prostrate and is often mistaken for greater bird’s-foot-trefoil (much taller and found in marshy conditions) and Narrow-leaved bird’s-foot-trefoil (much rarer with leaves four times the length of their width).
The yellow flowers tinged with pink have given this plant many different common names one of which is “eggs and bacon”! And whilst this plant is a member of the pea family, it definitely shouldn’t be eaten by humans due as it contains harmful toxins. However, the larvae of the common blue butterfly find this plant a tasty treat and the presence of these toxins have a beneficial effect for this species, resulting in larger, fatter caterpillars!
Bird’s-foot-trefoil is an extremely common UK wildflower and can be found in most regions in a variety of dry grassy habitats, including gardens, farmland, heaths and moors and coastal areas. It has even been found to grow on the sea shore below the winter tide line and it is therefore highly likely that you will spot it at any of the Dynamic Dunescape sites!
Whilst bird’s-foot-trefoil itself is not an endangered species, it is a favoured food source of both the silver-studded blue and white wood butterflies both of which are classified in the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework as Priority Species. Therefore, Dynamic Dunescapes are maintaining the grassy habitat in which bird’s-foot-trefoil thrives by allowing ponies to graze areas where competitor plants are becoming invasive, enabling the grassy areas to be retained.
A low growing, sprawling plant of variable height between 10-50cm, bird’s-foot-trefoil displays clusters of two to seven bright yellow flowers atop a solid, wiry stem between May and September. These later develop into three elongated seed pods which resemble a clawed bird’s foot and its leaves, being up to three times the length of their width, are divided into three rounded leaflets forming a trefoil, hence this plants common name.