Bird’s-Foot Trefoil: A Gardener’s Guide to Its Symbolic Roots and Vibrant Beauty

The bird’s-foot trefoil is a plant with yellow flowers that often grows wild in meadows and pastures. Also known as Lotus corniculatus, this hardy plant is similar in appearance to clover and is frequently used to feed cows and other livestock. Keep reading to discover the bird’s-foot trefoil’s meaning and symbolism in the language of flowers.

Ultimate Guide to Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s-Foot Trefoil Symbolism – Key Takeaways

The bird’s-foot trefoil, or Lotus corniculatus, is an herbaceous perennial with bright yellow flowers that take on a deeper, orange coloring with age. Despite its cheerful appearance, the bird’s-foot trefoil symbolizes a warning of revenge in the Victorian language of flowers.

Etymological Meaning

Simply put, this plant’s etymological meaning stems directly from its appearance. Its clustered seed pods and stalk resemble the shape of a bird’s foot, and its three prominent leaflets earned it the name trefoil. The word trefoil comes from the Old French trefueil, which means clover or clover leaf. Alternative names for the plant include:

Bird’s-Foot Trefoil Flower Meaning and Symbolism

A close up shot of a bright yellow blooming Bird's-Foot Trefoil Flower

The common bird’s-foot trefoil flower is a bright, sunny yellow that takes on a tinge of deep orange over time.

The most prominent example of the bird’s-foot trefoil’s cultural significance is its representation as a symbol of revenge in the Victorian language of flowers or floriography. This language allowed people to communicate emotions and messages through floral arrangements, and bird’s-foot trefoil was one of the few plants to represent a negative emotion.

The Cultural Significance of Bird’s-Foot Trefoil

Bird's-Foot Trefoil growing in the wild

Aside from its sinister meaning in the language of flowers, the bird’s-foot trefoil does not have many commonly known myths or folklore attached to it. Its origins date back to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and it grew in popularity for its ability to endure difficult conditions, mitigate erosion, and attract bumblebees and other pollinators.

Due to its primarily functional use, the bird’s-foot trefoil has no significant history in religion, art, or literature. However, some digging reveals a few notable examples, like the Bird’s Foot Trefoil Flower Fairy written and illustrated in the children’s book Flower Fairies of the Summer by Cicely Mary Barker, which came out in 1925.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

The bird’ s-foot trefoil flower is not commonly given as a gift, as it grows mainly outdoors as a wildflower or livestock feed. However, you could give the seeds as a gift to a gardener or rancher looking for quick, hardy ground cover.

Wrap Up

Bird’s-foot trefoil is an excellent choice whether you’re attracting pollinators, feeding livestock, or simply adding a touch of color to your garden. As long as you contain its growth, you can enjoy the many benefits of this perennial species through the passing seasons and beyond.


Contributing Editor | brandy@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Brandy Wells is an American copywriter and content writer living in Spain. From hiking in her hometown near the Smoky Mountains to digging in the dirt in rural Oregon, she has always put a love of nature at the heart of her endeavors. These days, you’ll catch her writing content, and of course, taking breaks to tend to her growing houseplant collection.

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