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Hare's-foot Clover

Trifolium arvense

  • Name also: Rabbitfoot Clover, Stone Clover, Haresfoot Clover
  • Family: Pea Family – Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
  • Growing form: Annual herb.
  • Height: 10–30 cm (4–12 in.). Stem erect, many-branched, hairy, often reddish.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, white–reddish, 4–6 mm (0.16–0.24 in.) long, fused at base. Petals 5; the upstanding the ‘standard’, the lateral two the ‘wings’, the lower two united to form the ‘keel’, overall shape of corolla being butterfly-like. Calyx 5-lobed, lobes long and narrow, longer than corolla, long-haired. Stamens 10. A single carpel. Inflorescence long-stalked, up to 3 cm (1.2 in.) long, cylindrical.
  • Leaves: Alternate, short-stalked, stipulate. Blade with 3 leaflets; leaflets narrowly lanceolate, with entire–finely toothed margins. Stipules membranous, tapered, mainly united with stalks.
  • Fruit: Indehiscent pod, remains inside calyx.
  • Habitat: Dry meadows, rocky outcrops, harbours, road and field banks.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Hare’s-foot clover’s inflorescence looks funny, like a hare’s paw or tail. At first glance one may not even realise that it is a clover: its small, white or reddish corollas only peep out from the mouth of the calyx. Its long, narrow calyx lobes make the inflorescence look spiny, although this effect is softened by the long hairs that cover the whole inflorescence, making it cutely fluffy. The calyx lobes are the dominant feature during the fruiting stage as they splay out in every direction like a star. In the best habitats it flowers very abundantly, but even the densest patches have not been formed vegetatively – hare’s-foot clover is an annual and each and every plant has sprouted that spring.

The hairiness of the calyx is important because it protects the flower and other parts in dry, sun-baked habitats. Additionally, the hair covering helps the pods spread with the wind. The seeds can germinate early in the spring, and the plant then flowers and ripens its seeds later on in the same summer. Seeds that germinate late will overwinter without flowering and, as autumn annuals, will only flower during the next growing season. In the wild the seeds rarely germinate in the same summer that they ripen because, like other clover seeds, they have a very hard shell and need time to soften.

Hare’s-foot clover’s coherent habitat stretches to the southern tip of Finland, and it has established itself further north and grows as a casual alien until the Arctic Circle. It seems to have exploited human activity and its appearance is apparently connected with human migration to Finland in early history and the Middle Ages. The plant has been used medicinally to treat humans and animals.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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