Clovers

Clover Leaves

Clover Leaves

What are Clovers?

Also known as trefoil, clovers are plants belonging to the Fabaceae family of leguminous peas. The plants are categorized under the Trifolium genus. The word was obtained from two Latin words 'tres' and 'folium', meaning 'three' and 'leaf', respectively.

On average, there are 300 plant species under the same genus. Whereas some species are native to Africa and South America, most variations grow in the temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere. Clovers are biennial, annual plants with evergreen leaves. They also do well in subtropical regions across the globe.

Trefoils are small, perennial, herbaceous plants with short lives. They feature trifoliate leaves whose stalks have stipules adnated to them. The flowers are dense spikes or heads in a variation of colors such as red, white, pink/purple or yellow. The plant's calyx houses pods with a few seeds inside them, usually one or two.

Purple Clover Flower

Purple Clover Flower

Paula Santos, Clover flower, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sweet clovers, also known as Melilotus, and Calvary clover or alfalfa (also called Medicago) are types of clovers categorized under a related genera. Though rare, the plant also comes in species with cinquefoil, quatrefoil or septfoil leaves (often referred to as lucky clovers because they are rare). Quatrefoil plants have four leaves in one.

Clovers are often planted in lawns because they are tolerant to high foot traffic, shades and repeated mowing. However, they are prone to pests and diseases such as the alfalfa weevils, and mosaic and common leaf rot diseases, respectively.

Trefoil plants are rich in phosphorous, proteins and calcium to nourish both its dry and green growth stages. They are excellent nitrogen-fixing plants often used as cover crops. A biennial red clover can add up to 170kg of nitrogen to soil in every one hectare of land.

White clovers (T. repens), red clovers (Trifolium pratense) and alsike clovers (T. hybridum) are the most common species for gardening. White clovers are perennials that tend to creep low. Also known as Alsatian clover or Swedish Clover, Alsike clovers feature globular flower heads with rosy, pink petals. Red clover flowers grow in diameter up to 2.5cm.

Cultivation of Clovers

Clovers are cultivated for use as fodder plants. Trifolium repens, white clover, Trifolium pratense and red clovers are the most cultivated species. The plant does well in various climates and soils. However, it is short-lived in acidic soils due to clover sickness that's typical of nutrient balance and pests and diseases.

The disease has also been associated with the decline of pollinators such as bumble and honey bees. Reseeding can result from high bee activity and the plant does not require application of fertilizer.

Uses of Clovers

Clover Cultivated as a Cover Crop

Clover Cultivated as a Cover Crop

 

Clovers are used as livestock feed (pasture, hay or foliage), to prepare green manure and as cover crops. The flowers of clovers tend to attract bees, hence the plant can be used to support pollination in crops that don't self-pollinate. The plants are also cultivated for clover honey as a secondary product.

Trefoils fix nitrogen in soil, providing nutrients even for the next crop after the current growing season. White clover can be used in lawn-grass mixtures.

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