Lotus purshianus (American Bird's-foot Trefoil)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prairie Bird's-foot Trefoil
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:sun; prairies, along roads and railroads
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:6 to 20 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular

[photo of flowers] A single flower is at the end of a hairy stalk that arises from a leaf axil. Flowers are 1/8 to ¼ inch long, white or yellowish white and a typical shape for a member of the Pea family. Behind the flower are long narrow bracts covered in long white hairs. One plant has many flowers, on branching stems.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are mostly compound in groups of 3, alternately attached with little or no leaf stalk. A single simple leaf is also attached to the flower stalk, just below the bracts. Leaflets are up to ¾ inch long and ¼ inch wide, toothless, hairy, with a pointed tip and tapering or rounded at the base. The main stem is densely covered in fine hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a slender bean-like pod, about 1 inch long.


This plant also goes by the synomym Lotus unifoliolatus. It is not very widespread in Minnesota and not found in any of my field guides, so it was a bit of a challenge to identify. It was a surprise find, too, since there was no record of it in the Twin Cities area until now.

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More photos

Photos taken at Rice Creek Trail Corridor, Shoreview, MN


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Jessica - Pipestone National Monument, Pipestone, MN
on: 2015-07-01 21:47:17

Just found this one last week while working out at Pipestone National Monument. Lovely little surprise - at first I thought it might be a diminutive tick trefoil (Desmodium). If this page didn't have it, I was about to pour through the Great Plains flora to look for it. Thanks for the ID!

Posted by: Gabriel Miller - Goodhue Co.
on: 2022-07-29 16:36:03

Growing along periphery of UTV trails paralleling railway. apparently not supposed to be in this county. Many small plants, none over 8 inches. The tiny, singular white flowers lead me to believe this is the right ID.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-07-29 16:51:38

Gabriel, seeing it along trail edges leads me to believe it was brought in on a vehicle's tires.

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