Bird’s-Foot Trefoil and Meadow Vetchling

Bird’s-foot trefoil (1)

Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) or Crobh éin corraigh in Irish is a member of the pea family. (1) Like all members of this family it adds fertility to the soil by harvesting nitrogen from the air and making it available in the soil for plants to use.  The flower structure of this family consists of a flag for attracting pollinators, two attached wings which form a landing platform for bees and underneath them a keel which is like a purse holding the pollen and nectar. (2)  This plant is common from June to September on roadside verges, meadows and grassland.  The seed pods are usually in clusters of five and because the middle ones are longer than the end ones, they are claw-like and look like birds’ feet. Sometimes these pods are referred to as “Granny’s toenails!”.  It is an important feeding plant for the caterpillars of the Common blue, and Dingy skipper butterflies and for the caterpillars of the Six-spot Burnet moth. (3)

Structure of Bird’s-foot trefoil (2)
Six-spot Burnet moth Credit Eamon Murchú (3)

Meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis) or Peasairín buí in Irish is common on roadside verges, hedgerows and long grass from June to September. (4)  It is sometimes called Yellow pea because of its rich yellow flowers. Its leaves contain pairs of lance shaped leaflets with tendrils between each. (5)  Close examination of the leaves of Birds-foot trefoil show that its leaves are completely different.  A leaf on this plant consists of three leaflets at the top of the stalk called a trefoil and two leaflets at the base. The seed pods are black like those on Birds-foot.

Meadow vetchling (4)
Leaves of Meadow vetchling (5)