A deciduous shrub, occasionally a small tree of shrubby habit, 1–4 m tall. Branches lax. Branchlets smooth, grey-brown, with a silvery sheen when young. Leaves alternate, trifoliolate, green, emitting an unpleasant smell when bruised. Leaflets oval-elliptic, 3–7 × 1–3 cm long, the terminal leaflet often (just) the largest and occasionally weakly obovate; undersides with a persistent pubescence, silvery at first; upper surface soon glabrous. Flowers pea-shaped, produced in short axillary racemes on the previous year’s growth; 1.8–2.5 cm long; calyx greenish, campanulate, ciliate, toothed; petals yellow, the standard hooded with a blackish blotch, c. half the length of the wings, wings narrowly oblong. Seed pods 7–20 × 1.5–2 cm, crescent shaped, pointed at both ends, pendulous, with 3–6 seeds; seeds violet to yellow. Flowering December to April. (Perez & Guillem 2016; Bean 1976).
Distribution Albania Algeria Tell Atlas Mountains Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus Egypt France Parts bordering the Mediterranean and Corsica Greece Greece Iran Zagros Mountains Iraq Zagros Mountains Israel Italy Kosovo Lebanon Libya North Macedonia (?) Malta Montenegro Morocco Portugal Saudi Arabia Serbia Syria Tunisia Turkey Near the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts; the Zagros Mountains Yemen
Habitat Sheltered, rocky places in maquis vegetation communities and in hills, nearly always within sight of the sea. To over 500 m asl in Cyprus, 2500– 3200 m asl in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
USDA Hardiness Zone 9
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Elegant in its details but otherwise rather ungainly, Anagyris foetida is an early-flowering, widespread plant in the Mediterranean basin, extending west into southern Portugal and northern Morocco, and in appropriate habitat eastward into the Zagros Mountains in northern Iraq and north eastern Iran, and as far south as Yemen, at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula (Plants of the World Online 2022). Within the Mediterranean basin it has a discontinuous distribution primarily in coastal regions, never extending more than a few dozen kilometres inland nor beyond a few hundred metres asl (Ortega-Olivencia & Catalán 2009); in the Arabian Peninsula it occurs much higher, to c. 3200 m asl (Wood 1997).
A suite of unflattering vernacular names in several languages point to an obvious barrier to popularity, whilst its tenderness precludes it from cultivation across the majority of our area. Bean reported it needed the protection of a south wall at Kew, and that even in such a spot it would still often succumb to winter conditions (Bean 1976). Nevertheless it has been grown in Britain – probably on and off – since about 1750 (Edwards & Marshall 2019); in the early 21st century the changing climate might improve its chances and it retains a listing in the Hillier Manual (Edwards & Marshall 2019), even so it is barely grown.
Anagyris foetida is notable as the first European native plant to be observed to be bird-pollinated (Ortega-Olivencia et al. 2005). Its noxious smell and poisonous unpalatability mean that it is left unbrowsed even in areas with little available fodder, and is considered to be an indicator of degraded land where it is abundant (Collenette 1985; Lewis et al. 2005).