Managing Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Birdsfoot trefoil is a low-growing, perennial broadleaf plant native to Eurasia and North Africa. It was introduced into the United States for erosion control and livestock forage and is still sold commercially. Birdsfoot trefoil has become invasive in some areas of North America, and is especially problematic in the prairie and grassland regions of the Midwest. Burning increases seed germination allowing the plant to establish and spread rapidly in areas managed for native prairie. Birdsfoot trefoil is found along roadsides, and in waste areas, fields, prairies, wildlife openings, and open disturbed areas. It tolerates a variety of soil types including dry, moist, hardpan or droughty soils.


Photo: birdsfoot trefoil, Jan Samanek, Photosanitary Admin.

Birdsfoot trefoil is in the legume family and produces stems up to two feet in length. Leaves are alternate and compound with five oval to linear leaflets. The plant flowers from May to August, when clusters of yellow, pea-like flowers develop. Fruits are pods that occur in head-like clusters with each pod containing up to 49 seeds. The name 'bird's foot' refers to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk. Birdsfoot trefoil produces a long taproot that may extend over three feet, and also forms secondary roots, rhizomes, and modified stems (stolons) near the soil surface. The plant reproduces by seeds, and spreads laterally by stolons and rhizomes.


Photo: Birdsfoot Trefoil Infestation. Chris Evans, Univ of Ill.

Birdsfoot trefoil can be effectively controlled with Milestone® herbicide at 5 to 7 fluid ounces per acre (fl oz/A). Field trials conducted by Dr. Mark Renz, University of Wisconsin found that Milestone at 7 fl oz/A provided good to excellent control in either June or October, and was significantly better than Transline® herbicide at 1 pint per acre applied in June (Figure 1). Milestone applied at 5 fl oz/A was more effective when applied in October compared to June and provided similar control as Milestone at 7 fl oz/A at this application timing.

Small infestations of birdsfoot trefoil can be controlled by manually digging to remove all root fragments. Frequent mowing at a height of two inches for several years may reduce seed production and spread, but will impact desirable vegetation. Burning is not recommended because it increases seed germination and will promote seedling establishment.


Figure 1. Percent birdsfoot trefoil control the growing season following application at June or early October in Wisconsin (Dr. Mark Renz)

First Published 5/2013; Reviewed and revised 6/2019

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Milestone herbicide is not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. When treating areas in and around roadside or utility rights-of-way that are or will be grazed, hayed or planted to forage, important label precautions apply regarding harvesting hay from treated sites, using manure from animals grazing on treated areas or rotating the treated area to sensitive crops. See the product label for details. State restrictions on the sale and use of Milestone apply. Consult the label before purchase or use for full details.

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