Plant of the day: harlequin lotus

Low, gaudy patches of yellow and purple are splashed across the grass of a wet meadow. This is Lotus formosissiumus, which has numerous common names including harlequin lotus, bicolored lotus, coast lotus or (if you’re in the mood for a bit of a tongue-twister) seaside bird’s foot trefoil. I find harlequin lotus the most descriptive, though coast lotus is also a good monniker since it’s range doesn’t go very far inland.

With it’s typical two-lipped flowers it’s clearly in the pea family. But what coloring! The upper lips are a rich, bright yellow, and the lower lips are a flashy pinkish purple that can, in some plants, fade out towards white with age. The Peterson guide says it grows 1 to 2 feet tall, but I have never seen one more than 5 or so inches high, and other books don’t mention height as a diagnostic trait.

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