I-Spy Birds Foot Trefoil

It’s just recently started flowering, otherwise I would never have noticed it. But now it’s in full bloom, it’s bright yellow color is quite startling.


Birds Foot Trefoil is a listed invasive species, brought from Europe, for erosion control and forage for livestock. It’s a legume (member of the pea family) and the flower looks a bit like the Sweet Pea. Legumes fix nitrogen into the soil, so are beneficial to other crops. This particular plant is good for ruminants (animals that chew the cud) as it prevents them getting bloat, a phenomenon where their stomachs produce excessive amounts of gas and swell up..  Eating excessive amounts of alfalfa, clover, or cereal grains can bring on this deadly problem. If not treated immediately, the animal can die within three to four hours.

I’ve actually seen vets punch a hole in the side of a cow’s abdomen with a trocar and cannula to let the gas escape.  Very interesting to see an animal in terrible distress, suddenly recover when they’re ‘popped’!  So having some Bird’s Foot Trefoil in the ruminant’s diet is a good thing, especially in the spring and fall when the grasses etc. are in ‘flush’.

Here’s a neat video showing a rumen fistula  The rumen is a fermentation vat (a bit like making wine or beer), where bacteria digest the forage and  then the steer digests the bacteria. By peering into the hole, kids here can see what’s going on, and the steer doesn’t seem to mind either!

The plant is in full flower right now, so you should be able to spot it quite easily.  I’m looking forward to seeing the seed pods form as they look like small peas.  I wonder if you can eat them?

Author: Mike Caswell

I live in Fairport, and my home is at The Oxbow section of The Erie Canal. I fish, have a pontoon boat and like messing in boats. (see www.mud-skipper.com). I'm retired and enjoy every day living here with my wife Carol and our two dogs.

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