Trifolium pratense L.

Red Clover


CC = *
CW = 3
MOC = 81

© DETenaglia

Family - Fabaceae/Faboideae

Habit - Perennial forb with a short, stout rootstock.

Stems - Ascending to erect, sometimes sprawling, to 60 cm, much-branched, glabrous or with appressed to spreading hairs.

Trifolium_pratense_stem.jpg Stem and stipule.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Alternate, trifoliate, stipulate, long-petiolate toward the stem base to nearly sessile toward the tip, the longest petioles to 80 mm, 3-4 times the length of the leaflets. Stipules much shorter than to about as long as the associated petiole, ovate to lanceolate, fused more than 2/3 of the way to the tips, the free portions short-tapered to long slender tips, pale with dark green to red veins, the margins usually entire. Leaflets 10-30 mm long, 7-15 mm wide, all sessile or nearly so, ovate to elliptic or obovate, broadly angled at the base, rounded or rarely minutely notched at the tip, usually with a minute broad tooth at the very tip, the margins minutely irregular or inconspicuously and broadly scalloped or toothed, often only near the tip, the surfaces glabrous or sparsely to moderately appressed-hairy. Leaflets sometimes with a chevron-shaped marking in the center.

Trifolium_pratense_leaf1.jpg Leaf.

© SRTurner

Trifolium_pratense_leaflet2.jpg Leaflet abaxial.

© SRTurner

Trifolium_pratense_leaf.jpg Pressed leaf.

© DETenaglia

Inflorescence - Terminal globose cluster 10-30 mm long and wide, sessile or the stalk 1-4 mm (closely subtended by a pair of bractlike leaves). Flowers 40-150, sessile, ascending to spreading at fruiting.

Trifolium_pratense_inflorescence1.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Trifolium_pratense_inflorescence2.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Trifolium_pratense_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© DETenaglia

Flowers - Calyces 5-8 mm long, the tube 2.5-4.0 mm long, sparsely to moderately hairy, the teeth narrowly triangular to nearly linear, unequal, the lowest tooth about as long as the tube, the others nearly equal and much shorter, moderately hairy, lacking a prominent network of nerves and not becoming inflated at fruiting. Corollas papilionaceous, 11-18 mm long, longer than the calyx lobes, usually reddish purple, the banner outcurved, oblong-oblanceolate, shallowly notched at the tip, inconspicuously nerved. Standard to 1 cm long, 3-4 mm broad. Stamens diadelphous. Style to 7 mm long, glabrous.

Trifolium_pratense_flowers.jpg Flowers.

© DETenaglia

Trifolium_pratense_calyces.jpg Calyces.

© SRTurner

Trifolium_pratense_flowers1.jpg Individual flowers.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Legumes, encased in persistent corolla and calyx, 2-3 mm long, oblong-obovoid, sessile, the outer wall membranous below a well-defined somewhat hardened shiny apical region, brownish-yellow, 1 or 2-seeded. Seeds 1.5-2.0 mm long, ovoid to slightly kidney-shaped, tan to brown, dull.

Flowering - April - October.

Habitat - Prairies, glades, fields, pastures, lawns, roadsides, railroads, open disturbed areas.

Origin - Native to Eurasia.

Lookalikes - None in Missouri, though T. hirtum, which is somewhat similar in appearance, occurs in some neighboring states and may eventually appear in Missouri.

Other info. - If you live in Missouri you have seen this plant. It it common throughout the state as well as most of the continental U.S. The large pink flower heads and (sometimes) the distinctly marked leaflets are unmistakable. It is an extremely important forage crop and has been cultivated since about the third century. It was present in North America by the late 1600s.

Though nutritious, the plant can cause bloating in livestock which overindulge on young growth. The plant has been used for human consumption in teas and vinegar, and also as a treatment for eye and skin ailments. Young plants can be cooked as a potherb. Ground dried flower heads have been added to bread dough in times of want.

Photographs taken in Eminence, MO., 6-6-03, and in Springfield, MO., 7-5-03 (DETenaglia); also at Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, MO, 5-9-2007, and near Labadie, Franklin County, MO, 5-15-2020 (SRTurner).