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Red Clover

Trifolium pratense

  • Family: Pea Family – Fabaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 15–50 cm (6–20 in.). Stem ascending–erect, often with many stems, runnerless.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, violet-red (sometimes light red–white), 12–18 mm (0.48–0.72 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, hairy all over, lowest lobe longer than others. Stamens 10. A single carpel. Inflorescence stalkless–short-stalked, dense, almost spherical, often 2 almost united.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, stipulate. Blade with 3 leaflets, leaflets lanceolate–elliptic, with entire–finely toothed margins, usually with white blotches. Stipules ovate, terminated by a short bristle, mainly united with stalks.
  • Fruit: Indehiscent pod, remains inside calyx.
  • Habitat: Fields, meadows, banks, waste ground, yards, forest pasture, forest margins, shores, rocky outcrops. Also fodder plant.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Red clover is one of the world’s most important fodder crops and, along with timothy-grass, is the most important species for seeded home lawns. Nutritionally speaking it is wonderful for cattle, but it also suits open-minded people too. Young plants that have not yet flowered can be added to salads, soups and stews, although it should be used sparingly as its strong flavour can be an acquired taste. The young flowers make a good tea when they are mixed with other herbs, or it can be enjoyed alone, although it is quite bland. It has a fine reputation as a medicinal herb, being used to loosen mucus, prevent fevers, and as a diuretic and antiseptic.

Red clover often grows on roadsides, but plants should not be picked from there for the dinner table because they contain harmful substances such as cadmium and asphalt dust. It also grows wild in rocky terrain and on shores. Wild forms have long inter-bred with each other and cultivated varieties, and these can often be identified by their soft, hollow stems, large size, and large and sometimes paler flowers. The latest tetraploid cultivated species have 4 sets of chromosomes and do not need to be cross-pollinated in the clovers normally do. Red clover’s seed production was previously problematic in Finland.

Red clover can be differentiated from zigzag clover (T. medium) by e.g. its leaves, and its leaflets have a white blotch in the middle and are shorter and wider than zigzag clover’s elongated, blotchless leaflets. Additionally, zigzag clover’s inflorescence is long-stalked and slightly sparser, and its corolla is darker.

Red clover is the national flower of Denmark.

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

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