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Lotus corniculatus

Lotus corniculatus is a fodder crop related to perennial leguminous grasses.

Lotus corniculatus
Lotus corniculatus
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©Robert Flogaus-Faust (CC BY 4.0)

Economic importance

As a fodder crop, Lotus corniculatus is used for hay, green fodder or pastures. Hay is superior in nutritional value to clover hay, but inferior in quality. The protein content in the dry mass reaches 22%.

The Lotus corniculatus is characterized by high resistance to adverse weather conditions; in one place it can grow up to 10-12 years. In the conditions of the Black Sea coast, it is capable of producing up to 4 cuttings per year.

As a pasture crop, it has good regrowth after grazing and resistance to trampling.

Due to its durability, it is suitable for tinning eroded lands.

Cultivation areas

Favorable conditions for growing Lotus corniculatus are in the coastal regions of the Black Sea, the North Caucasus, in central Russia, the central and northwestern regions of the Non-Chernozem Zone, and also in the south of Ukraine.


The yield of hay under favorable growing conditions is usually 4-5 t/ha. The highest yield was obtained at the former Krasnodar breeding station – 13.2 t/ha.

Seed yield 300-400 kg/ha.

Botanical description

Horned Lotus (Lotus corniculatus L.).

Taproot with powerfully branched lateral roots. Penetrates to a soil depth of up to 1.5 m. The root neck usually lies at a depth of 1.5-2 cm.

The stem is ascending or ascending, sometimes recumbent. Height 30-40 cm, with good agricultural technology – 60-80 cm. The stems form a dense bush. By 3-4 years of plant life, up to 180-240 shoots are formed in one bush.

The leaves are trifoliate with pronounced stipules.

The inflorescence is an umbrella-shaped head. The flowers are bright yellow, collected in 5-6 pieces.

The fruit is a multi-seeded elongated bean (bobbies), cracking when ripe. Seeds dark brown, small, rounded. Weight of 1000 seeds 1.1-1.4 g.

Biological features

Temperature requirements

Seeds begin to germinate at a temperature of 6-8 °C.

With good rooting of plants and snow cover, crops overwinter excellently. At high daytime temperatures in the summer, the Lotus corniculatus can withstand overheating well. For example, at a temperature of 28-30 °C, clover leaves lose their turgor by 11 o’clock in the morning, while the leaves of the lotus horned remain in a normal state throughout the day.

Moisture requirements

The Lotus corniculatus is a drought-resistant plant, surpassing red clover in this property, but the best development of plants is noted with sufficient moisture.

Light requirements

It has a relatively high shade tolerance.

Soil requirements

It is not picky about soils, grows well on sandy, loamy soils, tolerates solonetsity and high acidity. Able to produce good hay yields on poor soils.

The horned bird does not tolerate excessively moist soils, but is able to withstand flooding for up to 50 days.

Plant nutrition

As well as other legumes, it is distinguished by a high consumption of potassium, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium from the soil.


In the first 1.5-2 months after sowing, the Lotus corniculatus develops slowly, seedlings appear after 15-25 days.

In the south of Russia, it can form seeds in the year of sowing. It begins to grow in the spring of the second and subsequent years very early, continuing to grow until late autumn.

In the flowering phase, it is not eaten by livestock due to the bitter coloring matter contained in the flowers. Also during this period, traces of cyanogenic glucoside, which forms hydrocyanic acid, are present in flowering shoots. In a non-flowering state, it is eaten by all types of farm animals.

Plants reach their maximum development at 2-3 years of age. Resilience is high. The leaves account for up to 50% of the total mass of the aerial part.

Crop rotation

Lotus corniculatus is usually sown in a mixture with other perennial grasses. In the Non-Chernozem zone, it is usually the second legume component in grass mixtures used in field crop rotations. The share of its seeds accounts for 25-30% of the seeding rate of legumes in grass mixtures.

Good results were obtained at the former Krasnodar Experimental Station with the joint sowing of alfalfa and Lotus corniculatus. It is also sown under the cover of a crop that is considered the most suitable for a particular area.


Fertilizers are applied in the same way as under clover or alfalfa.

Tillage is according to the technology established for the cover crop, or as for alfalfa, taking into account local environmental conditions.

Before sowing, the seeds of the Lotus corniculatus are subjected to scarification.

Sowing is carried out in early spring under the cover of spring cereals. Seeding rate 12-14 kg/ha, seeding depth 2-3 cm.


Harvesting for hay of pure crops of Lotus corniculatus is carried out before flowering.

After mowing and hay harvesting, the field is harrowed with heavy harrows.

On the seed, mowing begins when the beans located on the main shoots turn brown. The mass dried in rolls is transported to the current, where completely dried and easily cracked beans are threshed. Since the ripening and drying of the beans is uneven, the dried mass is passed through grain threshers. Seeds cleaned from impurities are stored for long-term storage.


V.V. Kolomeychenko. Horticulture/Textbook. – Moscow: Agrobiznesentr, 2007. – 600 с. ISBN 978-5-902792-11-6.

Horticulture/P.P. Vavilov, V.V. Gritsenko. Vavilov. ed. by P.P. Vavilov, V.S. Kuznetsov et al. – M.: Agropromizdat, 1986. – 512 p.: ill. – (Textbook and Tutorials for Higher Education Institutions).

Fundamentals of Technology of Agricultural Production. Farming and plant growing. Under the editorship of Niklyaev V.S. – Moscow: “Bylina”, 2000. – 555 с.