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Red Clover Facts

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Red Clover Facts

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Overview

Pretty in its three-part foliage and pinkish red summertime blossoms, red clover is a common meadow plant in the United States and abroad. While some regard it as a crop or wildflower others may call it a pesky weed as red clover produces many small seeds that will germinate in both moist and rather dry soil conditions. It is rather short-lived, growing hairy, non-woody stems and tolerating cold winters.

Taxonomy

Red clover is a member of the legume or pea family, Fabaceae. Its botanical name is Trifolium pratense.

Native Range

Red clover is native to Europe and central and northern Asia, in cold winter climates. In Europe it grows from the western Atlantic eastward to the Mediterranean Sea across Russia and Siberia. It also naturally grows in Asia Minor, the Himalayas, and northernmost China and Mongolia. It inhabits wet to dry meadows and open woodlands.

Current Distribution

Besides being commonly found in meadows and garden landscapes in its native range in Europe and Asia, red clover now grows as both a desirable crop and weed in other temperate climate areas of the world. North America and cooler southern reaches of South America and Australia also find this perennial plant in the environment.

Description

A short-lived perennial herb, red clover that grows about 10 to 20 inches in height and width. Its fibrous roots have nodes on them that fixate nitrogen, improving soil fertility. The leaves comprise three oval leaflets that are emerald green and lightly hairy. In the middle of each leaflet is a light green V-shaped marking. The flowers occur in late spring and summer and are clustered tubes in the shape of a globe. The flowers range in color from pink to red.

Uses

Red clover is widely used as a forage crop in meadows for livestock and as silage for poultry. It also is planted as a temporary cover crop to improve the nitrogen fertility of field soils. Insects with long tongues, especially bumblebees, make honey from the nectar in the clusters of tubular blossoms. Domesticated honeybees make honey, but not in large amounts as their tongues are not long enough to reach the majority of nectar in the flowers. Since this plant is naturalized across much of the world's temperate regions, it also has the label of weed as it will sprout on roadsides, in lawns and meadows or other agricultural landscapes. It does, however, make a good ground cover to diminish erosion.

Keywords: Trifolium, forage crop, honey plants

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," non-profit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He holds a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne.