Fabaceae Lindl.

Trigonella L.

This genus is accepted, and its native range is Temp. & Subtropical Old World, Australia.


Legumes of the World. Edited by G. Lewis, B. Schrire, B. MacKinder & M. Lock. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2005)

Mediterranean and warm temperate grassland and shrubland
Mediterranean region to C Europe, from the Canary Islands eastwards to C Asia and India with an outlying species in Australia
The boundaries between Melilotus, Trigonella and Medicago have long been disputed; Small et al. (1987) have proposed a fairly unambiguous definition of Medicago which includes two sections formerly placed in Trigonella, and this is followed here; it is supported, for the most part, by later work (Small et al., 1989) using seed surface characters; the genus Melilotoides Heist. ex Fabr. (1763) included some taxa regarded as intermediate between Melilotus and Trigonella; it is accepted by Yakovlev et al. (1996) who regard it as ancestral to these two genera

Trifolieae forms a morphologically distinctive tribe, although the position of both Ononis and Parochetus has been questioned (see below). In total there are 6 genera and c. 485 species, of which more than half belong to Trifolium (Fig. 56). The distribution of the tribe is centred in the N temperate regions of the Old World, particularly in areas of winter rainfall. Trifolium itself has spread into the tropics on mountains, where there has been considerable diversification, particularly in Ethiopia. It is also the only genus of the tribe to occur naturally in the New World. Parochetus occurs only on palaeotropical mountains. The importance of some genera as fodder legumes, particularly Trifolium and Medicago, has led to their introduction to many parts of the world.

Ononis was placed in a tribe of its own, Ononideae, by Hutchinson (1964) and this has been followed by some (e.g., Yakovlev et al., 1996). The distinctness of Parochetus (and of Ononis) was emphasised by Small & Jomphe (1989), and Chaudhary & Sanjappa (1998a) have placed Parochetus in its own subtribe Parochetinae.

Within the core of Trifolieae, there are some problems in generic delimitation, particularly between Trigonella, Medicago and Melilotus, with some (e.g., Yakovlev et al., 1996) recognising the intermediate genus Melilotoides. Distinctive species here placed in Medicago have been variously segregated as Radiata (Pseudomelissitus), Rhodusia, Crimea, Kamiella and Factorovskya. This treatment follows Small (1987) and Small et al. (1987) in recognising an expanded Medicago including all those species with explosively tripping flowers. In Trifolium, on the other hand, the generic boundaries are reasonably clear, but the unit can be treated either as a large genus with several well-defined sections (the course followed here), or as the separate genera Amoria, Chrysaspis, Lupinaster and Trifolium sens. strict. (see below).

Trifolieae forms part of the ‘temperate epulvinate series’ of Polhill (1981a). In the same volume Heyn (1981) was unable to suggest a clear relationship to any other tribe. The morphological cladistic analysis of the whole family by Chappill (1995) placed Trifolieae next to Cicer. Kupicha (1977) had earlier suggested that Cicer is closest to Trifolieae, with the adnation of the stipules to the petiole in Trifolieae being the only differential character; the tribes Cicereae and Trifolieae also share the characters of long-stalked glandular hairs and serrate leaflets with craspedodromous venation. Doyle (1995) placed Trifolieae, along with Carmichaelieae, Cicereae, Galegeae, Hedysareae, Fabeae and some Millettieae in a group characterised by the loss of the inverted repeat (IR) (Liston, 1995). Endo & Ohashi (1997) placed Trifolieae as sister to the Cicereae and Fabeae (as Vicieae) in a cladistic analysis based on a range of non-molecular characters. Wojciechowski et al. (2000) distinguish a Vicioid clade that includes Trifolieae, Cicereae and Fabeae (as Vicieae), as well as Galega. Within this clade, Parochetus is basally branching to the rest of the taxa, and Galega plus Cicereae form a sister group to a paraphyletic Trifolieae, with Fabeae emerging as sister to Trifolium. In a clade sister to Trifolium and Fabeae, Wojciechowski et al. (2000) and Steele & Wojciechowski (2003) place Ononis basally branching to the sister monophyletic clades Medicago, and Melilotus-Trigonella (Fig. 56). The latter three genera comprise tribe Trigonelleae of Schulz (1901).

Given that molecular phylogenies do not support a monophyletic Trifolieae in its current form, further study may reinforce the pattern of relationships suggested so far by these analyses. A tribe Trigonelleae could be recognised including the genus Ononis, and tribe Trifolieae would then only include the genus Trifolium, sister to tribe Fabeae. The Trifolieae in its broader paraphyletic sense is maintained here pending further study. The ‘supertree’ of Wojciechowski et al. (2001) is not supportive of the segregate genera of Trifolium; more thorough sampling of Trifolium and other large genera is desirable before any final conclusions can be drawn.


M. Thulin. Flora of Somalia, Vol. 1–4 [updated 2008]

Some 50 species, mainly in the Mediterranean region.
Morphology General Habit
Morphology Leaves
Leaves pinnately 3-foliolate; leaflets usually toothed
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers solitary or in axillary short racemes
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Corolla caducous
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pod usually linear or oblong, straight or curved, indehiscent or dehiscing along one suture.


Leguminosae, various authors. Flora Zambesiaca 3:7. 2003

Morphology General Habit
Herbs, mostly annual, often strongly aromatic.
Morphology Leaves
Leaves pinnately 3-foliolate; leaflets often denticulate; stipules basally adnate to the petiole.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers in axillary racemes, heads or umbels, or flowers solitary or in pairs, lacking an explosive tripping pollination mechanism; bracts minute; bracteoles absent.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx campanulate, more rarely tubular; teeth subequal.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals free from the stamens, mostly yellow, deciduous; standard obovate, with basal vein 3-branched near the base; wings oblong with the upper proximal corner extended into a small auricle (c. 1/10–1/5 the length of the wing blade); keel obtuse, not or loosely adherent to the wing by a wing spur in a keel pocket (both spur and pocket not or weakly developed).
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Filament sheath truncate at the apex; free portions of filaments mostly thin; anthers uniform, versatile; vexillary filament free.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Pistil
Ovary sessile, few–many-ovuled; style long, incurved above, glabrous; stigma small, somewhat expanded from the style but not markedly capitate, with short papillae on the apex.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pod usually linear or oblong, straight or ± curved, subterete or compressed, often beaked, never coiled or spiny, dehiscent along the ventral suture or indehiscent, usually many-seeded.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds mostly verruculose, sometimes smooth.

Used for fodder, soil improvement, medicine, dyes and an insect repellent; T. foenum-graecum L. (fenugreek, methi) is a pulse crop, and an important condiment for flavouring food (both seeds and leaves are used)

Native to:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Austria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canary Is., Cape Provinces, Cyprus, Djibouti, East Aegean Is., East Himalaya, Egypt, France, Free State, Greece, Gulf States, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Kriti, Krym, Kuwait, Lebanon-Syria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New South Wales, North Caucasus, Northern Provinces, Northern Territory, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Queensland, Romania, Sardegna, Saudi Arabia, Sicilia, Sinai, Socotra, South Australia, South European Russi, Spain, Sudan, Tadzhikistan, Tibet, Transcaucasus, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkey-in-Europe, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Victoria, West Himalaya, Western Australia, Western Sahara, Xinjiang, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia

Introduced into:

Assam, Baltic States, Belarus, Belgium, Buryatiya, Central European Rus, China North-Central, China South-Central, Czechoslovakia, East European Russia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Germany, Great Britain, Inner Mongolia, Kamchatka, Kenya, Manchuria, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, New York, North European Russi, Northwest European R, Portugal, Primorye, Qinghai, Sakhalin, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, West Siberia, Zimbabwe

Trigonella L. appears in other Kew resources:

First published in Sp. Pl.: 776 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Govaerts, R., Nic Lughadha, E., Black, N., Turner, R. & Paton, A. (2021). The World Checklist of Vascular Plants, a continuously updated resource for exploring global plant diversity. Scientific Data 8: 215.


Flora Zambesiaca

  • Gen. Pl., ed. 5: 338 (1754).
  • Sp. Pl.: 776 (1753)

Flora of Somalia

  • Flora Somalia, Vol 1, (1993) Author: by M. Thulin [updated by M. Thulin 2008]

  • Flora Zambesiaca

    Flora Zambesiaca

  • Flora of Somalia

    Flora of Somalia

  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Legumes of the World Online