Montag, 11. Juni 2012

Plant of the Day (June 11th, 2012) - Lotus corniculatus ssp. hirsutus Rothm.

This time, I want to present a new species from the Fabaceae family. This species is Lotus corniculatus ssp. hirsutus Rothm. In Germany, we called this plant “Behaarter Hornklee” while the common English name is “Hairy Birds-food trefoil”. In Switzerland, this plant is known as “Schotenklee”.

L. corniculatus ssp. hirsutus  - habitus

It's a herb, which can reach heights between 10 and 50 centimetres (3.9 to 19.7 inches). The angular stalk grows upright or creeping and has an inner medullary. The leaves are imparipinnate with five leaflets. The lower pair sits directly on the stem, so in some literature, these leaflets are termed as stipules. All leaflets are inverse egg-shaped. Both Stalk and leaflets are covered with hairs, which gave the plant its scientific name (“hirsutum” means “hairy”). This is also the main difference to the other subspecies Lotus corniculatus ssp. corniculatus L.

 L. corniculatus ssp. hirsutus  - leaves and angular stalk
(here you can see the hairs on the leaves

The inflorescence is umbel-shaped with three to eight flowers. These flowers are the typical cygomorphic flowers of the Fabaceae. The golden-yellow petals are divided into “wings”, “keel” and “banner”, which consists of two fused petals. The sepals are hairy and form a bud before flowering. The ripe fruit is a curved pod. 

L. corniculatus ssp. hirsutus  - inflorescense
( 1) = banner; 2) = wings; 3) = keel; 4) = sepals)

L. corniculatus ssp. hirsutus is native to Middle and Southern Europe and Eurasia but can also be found as Neophyte in North America. It prefers warm places and grows on meadows, embankments, pastures and at roadsides. As Fabaceae, this plant has the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen and is able to settle on very nutrient-poor soils.

All parts of this plant contain derivatives of cyanide. However, these derivatives are not toxic for humans and other mammals but for snails. In this way, young exemplars of L. corniculatus ssp. hirsutus protect themselves against grub by snails.

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