Clover is one of the most popular and widely used annual flowers in nature. There are many uses for it such as food, medicine, fuel, fiber, building materials and much more. Clover grows wild all over the world including North America where it’s native to. It was introduced into California by early settlers in the 1850s. Clover is a member of the lily family. The flower consists of three parts: the stigma (the part at the top), petals (which have stamens) and pistil (a stalk with pollen sacs).
The seeds are oval shaped, dark green or brownish yellow, and about 1/4 inch long when fully mature. They contain small round grains which resemble tiny peas but they do not produce any oil like other legumes. They are very nutritious and provide protein, vitamin B6, iron, calcium and potassium.
There are two species of clovers: the common American clover (Lathyrus odoratus) and the European clover (Trifolium pratense). Both belong to the genus Lathyrus. Common American clover is found throughout North America from Canada southward through Mexico and Central America.
It is in the pea family (Fabaceae) along with vegetables such as garden peas, soybeans, alfalfa and many other flowering plants. It has a long history of use by Native Americans and was introduced to Europe in the 1500s.
The white clover is the most common type of clover that is used as a lawn grass substitute. It is found in all the states east of the Mississippi River and in Canada. It is usually found in fields, meadows, and open areas.
It can be grown just about anywhere and is shade tolerant. There are two types of white clover that are used as lawn grass substitute: Dutch White Clover (the most popular) and Alsike Clover. Both are very easy to grow and do not need much maintenance, mowing or watering. Even though they can be grown in sun or shade, they grow better and stronger in open areas with full sun exposure.
Clover is an annual plant, which means it completes its life cycle in one year. It begins to grow in the early spring and flowers during the summer months. The seeds mature in late summer or early fall, then they drop off and remain dormant through the winter months until the next spring, when they begin to germinate.
In nature, clover is pollinated by bees. The flowers turn from white to a light purple as they mature. After they’ve been pollinated the flower turns back to white and produces small round legume seeds.
They can remain in the soil for many years without germinating.
How to grow clover
Clover is very easy to grow from seed. It grows well in full sun and requires very little watering. Sow the seeds directly into your lawn in early spring or in the autumn.
They can also be grown in pots or planters as long as they are transplanted before their first winter. Seeds can be collected either by hand or by allowing the flowers to self-pollinate then collect the seeds once they have dried and turn brown.
Common uses for clover
Clover is very nutritious and has been used as both human and animal food for centuries. The young leaves and sprouts of clover are very high in vitamin C. The flowers, when dried, can be used to produce a yellow dye.
The leaves and stems can be boiled and the liquid can be used as a fabric dye.
In some countries clover is used as a nutritious fodder crop for livestock. It is high in protein and is often mixed with other feed crops to promote rumen fermentation and to increase the efficiency of nutrients. The process of mixing clover or other fodder crops with other feed crops is called mixing or ensiling.
Clover is also used in some Indian and South-East Asian recipes. The leaves and stems can be consumed raw in salads or cooked lightly. A traditional clover dish in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkand is saag aur makhi, which consists of chopped mustard leaf and radish leaf with chopped clover.
Other plants called clover
There are other plants that are sometimes called clover, but aren’t really clovers. These include the following:
Yellow Oxalis or Shamrock (Oxalis latifolius)
Shamrock is not a true clover. It is actually a member of the Wood-Sorrel Family. It gets its name from the fact that it has three leaves that look like clovers when they are still young and small.
Shamrock was used in Ireland and other countries as a symbol for the Holy Trinity.
Shamrock is a common weed that grows just about anywhere there is sun and dampness, such as alongside streams or in your lawn. It is an invasive plant in Australia.
Shamrock has heart-shaped leaves with 3 to 5 rounded lobes. The stem is square (not hollow like a true clover) and it has small pinkish-white flowers.
Shamrock leaves can be eaten as a cooked vegetable. The leaves and stems are high in oxalic acid, so it is not suitable for animals to eat.
Rose Apple (Jambu amerhica)
This plant isn’t really a clover, but it is a relative of the rose. It gets its name from its rose-like aroma. The fruit has a sweet flavor and can be eaten raw or made into juice.
There are several species of Jambu and they can all be found in warm, moist climates in most tropical zones and some subtropical zones. The leaves are large, heart-shaped and shiny green. The flowers are very small and white.
Sources & references used in this article:
Grass grub tolerant pastures and fertiliser nitrogen as an alternative to white clover in pasture subject to grass grub attack by DA McCallum, NA Thomson… – Proceedings of the New …, 1990 – nzgajournal.org.nz
Evaluation of the phytoremediation potential of four plant species for dibenzofuran-contaminated soil by Y Wang, H Oyaizu – Journal of hazardous materials, 2009 – Elsevier
Alternative Lawns by S Daniels, K Noll, JM Fagan – 2013 – rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu
Spring and autumn establishment of Caucasian and white clovers with different sowing rates of perennial ryegrass by AD Black, DJ Moot, RJ Lucas – Grass and Forage Science, 2006 – Wiley Online Library