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White Melilot

Melilotus albus

  • Latin name also: Melilotus alba
  • Name also: White Sweet Clover, Honey Clover
  • Family: Pea Family – Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
  • Growing form: Biennial herb.
  • Height: 30–150 cm (12–60 in.). Stem ascending–erect, branched, bristly, almost glabrous.
  • Flower: Corolla irregular (zygomorphic), white, 4–5 mm (0.16–0.2 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. Stamens 10. A single carpel. Inflorescence an axillary, long raceme; flowers nodding.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, stipulate. Blade with 3 leaflets, terminal leaflet stalked. Leaflets elliptic–lanceolate, with toothed margins. Stipules entire.
  • Fruit: 3–5 mm (0.12–0.2 in.) long, tapered, wrinkled surface, glabrous, when ripe dark brown, 1–2-seeded, indehiscent pod.
  • Habitat: Roadsides, railway embankments, railways, harbours, rubbish tips, waste ground.
  • Flowering time: July–September.

White melilot’s impressive flowers catch the eye of passers-by, even if they are unfamiliar with the species. Insects notice it too and are attracted to the numerous flowers and abundant nectar. It has a well-deserved reputation as an excellent honey plant, and the first part of its scientific name attests to this.

White melilot is nowadays a familiar sight in many kinds of cultural sights and on waste ground in southern and central Finland. It is however quite a new arrival and has only recently settled in to Finland. It first arrived in sailing boats’ ballast soil: in the Golden Age of the Baltic timber trade in the 19th century vessels that were returning home without cargo needed more weight to keep their balance, and soil was used for this purpose – accompanied by seeds and other parts of plants. Many exotic plants never made it out the harbour, and their significance in enriching Finland’s flora was negligible. White melilot continued its journey however from the ballast soil heap to different kinds of cultural environments, and the species has consolidated its foothold later as a stowaway on trains and as an added bonus in trade. The building of roads and suburbs and the side-effects of these activities seems to have accelerated its spread to new areas even in recent times. New stands are usually short-lived, but the plant sometimes settles in for a long time and spreads further.

It is easy to mix up white melilot with yellow-flowered ribbed melilot (M. officinalis) when neither is in bloom, but the latter’s pod is hairy.

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

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