Showy Ticktrefoil

Biological Name:

Desmodium spp. (Showy-Ticktrefoil)

Natural Habitat:

Showy-Ticktrefoil: Open woodlands and meadows, North America


Showy-Ticktrefoil also known as Desmodium is a plant that is native to grassland and prairie regions of North America. It is a perennial herb that can grow up to three feet tall and it has small oval-shaped leaves and showy pink or purple flowers that bloom in the summer. The plant is known for its distinctive seedpods which are covered in small hooked hairs and it is often used as a forage crop for livestock.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Does Showy Tick Trefoil spread?
A: Gamebirds and small rodents eat the seeds. This plant is also highly edible to various mammalian herbivores, including deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and livestock. Highly adaptable, Showy Tick Trefoil will spread quickly in optimum growing conditions, requiring a great deal of space for its full development.

Q: How do you control trefoil?
A: Birdsfoot trefoil in lawns can be controlled with broadleaf herbicides. The most effective broadleaf herbicides are those products that contain two or more of the following compounds: 2,4-D, MCPP, MCPA, dicamba, triclopyr, and others.

Q: How do you keep tickseed blooming?
A: To keep tickseed flowering, you must deadhead, or cut away spent blooms. This will also help keep them from going to seed and spreading too quickly.

Q: Where is Showy Tick Trefoil native to?
A: Showy Tick Trefoil is a herbaceous flowering perennial native to the upper Midwest, North Eastern United States, and into Canada. As it’s name implies, it makes beautiful pink-purple blooms in July/August. As a legume, it will fix nitrogen to the soil for use during the growing season.

Q: Is trefoil an invasive species?
A: Quick facts. Birdsfoot trefoil is an invasive species. It should be reported. Birdsfoot trefoil is found in prairies and open areas, such as roadsides.

Q: Is trefoil good for bees?
A: Value for wildlife Bird’s-foot trefoil produces a valuable source of nectar that attracts both bumble bees and honey bees. It’s also a popular plant for various species of butterflies that visit foe its nectar.

Q: Should I plant Birdsfoot trefoil?
A: Birdsfoot trefoil plant is a good choice for difficult locations with wet or moderately acidic soil. It tolerates moderate levels of salt in the soil as well. Birdsfoot trefoil also has some clear disadvantages. When the soil is good enough to grow alfalfa or clovers, these crops are better choices.

Q: Is trefoil good for deer?
A: Wildlife: Birdsfoot trefoil is a choice food for Canada goose, deer, and elk. As ground cover, it provides green cover most of the year and blooms profusely.

Q: Is birdsfoot trefoil poisonous to humans?
A: After some intensive googling, I found one of my favorite descriptions of its edibility: “Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, is a member of the Pea Family and has been considered both edible and medicinal but be aware that all parts of this plant are poisonous.” (

Q: Are trefoil flowers edible?
A: All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides(hydrogen cyanide)[65, 76].

Q: Is Showy Tick Trefoil perennial?
A: Canada Tick Trefoil, sometimes called Showy Tick Trefoil, is a 2′ to 6′ tall native perennial legume with purple pea-like flowers. The jointed seed pods are covered with tiny hooked hairs that adhere to fur or clothing to aid in seed dispersal.

Q: Do you cut back birdsfoot trefoil?
A: Management: Bird’s-foot trefoil plants can be used both in a frequently cut flowering lawn or herbaceous border. General management requires cutting back once a year.

Q: Does a hardy annual come back every year?
A: The definition of a hardy annual is simple enough. It’s a plant that goes through its entire life cycle in one season and which can be sown outside in the open garden in spring where it is to flower. In many areas this carries with it the implication that it can happily survive the spring frosts as a seedling.

Q: Is trefoil the same as clover?
A: Clover or trefoil are common names for plants of the genus Trifolium (from Latin tres ‘three’ + folium ‘leaf’), consisting of about 300 species of flowering plants in the legume or pea family Fabaceae originating in Europe.

Q: Why is it called Tick Trefoil?
A: The species name refers to the blunt-tipped leaves. The common name of this species is in reference to the fruit’s ability to stick to animals like ticks. Trefoil refers to the three stiff leaflets that make up each leaf.

Q: How do you grow showy tick trefoil?
A: Showy Tick Trefoil grows best in normal to moist conditions with full or partial sun exposure. It prefers organically rich humus or loam but can grow in a variety of soil types.

Q: Where does trefoil grow?
A: Birdsfoot trefoil is found in prairies and open areas, such as roadsides. It forms dense mats, choking and shading out most other vegetation. Prescribed burns increase germination, making it troublesome in native prairies. See the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommendations for reporting invasive species.

Q: Is Hop trefoil invasive?
A: The US Department of Agriculture does not list Hop Clover as an invasive plant. Hop Clover does not appear on the Federal Noxious Weed List.

Q: Is tick trefoil edible?
A: Wildlife Food: The seeds are used by a variety of birds and other wildlife. Like many other members of the Bean family, this plant is highly edible to various mammalian herbivores, including deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and livestock.

About the author

Samuel is a gardening professional and enthusiast who has spent over 20 years advising homeowners and farm owners on weed identification, prevention and removal. He has an undergraduate degree in plant and soil science from Michigan State University.