Lotus subbiflorus

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaFabaceaeLotusLotus subbiflorus


An annual or short-lived perennial herb typically occurring around rock outcrops and in dry, open grassland on coastal cliffs; often on relatively sheltered, sunny banks alongside cliff-top paths and trackways, and thriving on shallow, drought-prone neutral to moderately acidic soils. It often occurs with Lotus angustissimus. In Dorset, Hampshire and Wexford it occurs inland in open, sandy grassland and on verges. Lowland.



World Distribution

Suboceanic Southern-temperate element.

© K.J. Walker, BSBI

Broad Habitats

Acid grassland (includes non-calcareous sandy grassland)

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 6

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 5


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 5.8

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16

Annual Precipitation (mm): 987

Life form information

Height (cm): 30

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 86

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 8

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 14

Atlas Change Index: 0.22

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Lotus subbiflorus Lag.

Hairy bird's-foot-trefoil

Status: scarce



Like its rarer congener L. angustissimus, this rather elusive species typically occurs on scrubby clifftops and dry grassy banks by the sea. It tends to avoid truly maritime swards where Armeria maritima and Scilla verna are abundant, preferring rather scruffier grasslands in more sheltered situations. Here it occurs in an open turf with such species as Agrostis capillaris, Crepis capillaris, Dactylis glornerata, Hypochaeris radicata, Plantago coronopus, Rumex acetosella and Vulpia bromoides, and with patches of gorse, bramble or bracken rarely far away. In Devon and Cornwall long stretches of coastline are now covered by impenetrable scrub, and in such areas it is often confined to narrow strips of open ground beside footpaths and trackways. 

L. subbiflorus is an annual (perhaps rarely a short-lived perennial), germinating in autumn and possibly also in spring and flowering from July to September. An open turf is essential for successful germination and seedling establishment: scrub cutting, trampling, fire and summer droughts may all be of benefit for this reason. Population size can vary greatly from year to year. Buried seed probably remains viable for many years, enabling the species to appear intermittently whenever conditions are suitable.

L. subbiflorus may have been lost from some of its former localities, perhaps as a result of scrub encroachment following removal of traditional management practices such as grazing and burning, or due to agricultural improvement of clifftop grasslands. However, at some sites it could reappear from buried seed following, for example, the opening up or clearance of clifftop scrub or the reinstatement of grazing. In many 10 km squares in which it has not been seen since 1970 it probably does still occur, at least sporadically, in low numbers.

It is almost confined to Western Europe, extending through the Mediterranean eastwards as far as Sicily. It also occurs in North Africa. This species is at its northern limit in the British Isles.



S. J. Leach

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references