A usually, low growing creeping plant commonly found throughout Britain in grassland on road verges, waste ground, pasture and grassy banks and often found in old established lawns. It was first formally recorded in 1597 by John Gerard as being ‘in most fertill fields of England’.1.
Its deep yellow to orange flowers, usually with red streaks, earned it one of its many common names eggs-and-bacon. Vickery2. lists 102 alternative local names from around the country including bird’s claws, bread and cheese, lady’s pincushion and knifes-an’-forks. Medicinally, Culpeper recommended its use in ‘wound drinks’ or applied on wounds.3.
Although "a common native plant, (bird’s-foot trefoil) is so beautiful" William Robinson wrote, ‘that it must not be forgotten, flowering as it does all summer……. and few better plants for the front edge of borders.’4. Bird’s-foot trefoil is a cheerful addition to the garden and can be grown in almost any well-drained soil – acid to alkaline in the front of borders, rockeries, shingle and of course in lawns (where it can withstand not-too-frequent mowing) and in meadow areas. It can also be grown in pots and window boxes.
Bird’s-foot-trefoil can be easily propagated by seed in early spring or autumn, for planting out the following autumn or spring. It is included in most meadow seed mixes. Alternatively buy as nursery-raised plugs or plants from any of the recommended wild flower nurseries, and add to lawn, rough grassland, shingle or rockery or more formal flower beds.
It provides a great source of nectar for a range of pollinators including short-tongued bumblebees such as the red-tailed bumblebee Bombus lapidarius and common carder bumblebee Bombus pascuorum, flies and butterflies. Bird’s-foot trefoil also supports over 130 herbivorous insects including leaf beetles, weevils and pollen beetles, butterflies and moths. The leaves are the main food plant for the larvae of several butterflies notably the common blue butterfly Polyommatus icarus, dingy skipper Erynnis tages and green hairstreak Callophrys rubi and over 60 moth species including the day-flying six-spot burnet moth Zygaena filipendulae, the nationally scarce chalk carpet Scotopteryx bipunctaria and the micro-moths Coleophora discordella and Oncocera semirubella.5.
If you are thinking of putting some wildflowers in your garden, this really is one of the easiest and best!
1. Pearman, D. 2017. The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain and Ireland, A compilation of the first records for 1670 species and aggregates, covering Great Britain, Ireland, The Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland. P.88.p 261
2. Vickery, R. 2019. Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A to Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London. p 61
3. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal & English Physician. 1826. This edition published in 2003. Greenwich Editions. London.p 19
4. Robinson, W 1903, second edition 1894. The Wild Garden. John Murray. London. p 225.
5. See the Biological Record Centre database
Page written by Caroline Ware. Compiled by Steve Head