Common Name: White Clover, Dutch Clover, White Trefoil, Ceeping Trifolium, Ladino clover and Honeysuckle Clover.
Etymology: Trifolium: Latin for three leafed plant, repens: Creeping, crawling.
Forward: Trifolium repens is a plant that nearly everyone would recognize (mainly growing in lawn or pastural land) and probably never really think too much about. As a kid, walking through clover barefoot was almost a guarantee of at least one good bee sting but still we did it. In early adulthood I remember thinking clover looked quite interesting breaking up the monotony of flat green grass like a bed of wildflowers. Now that I’m older and working in the nursery section of ‘Bunnings Warehouse’ it seems that our customers only concern is how they can lay waste to this runaway weed that threatens to ruin their perfect Aussie lawn (hmm, isn’t lawn a runaway weed itself). I have heard so many stories about clover (none confirmed) that I thought it was time to do a little research so that we can all make an informed decision about whether we can cope with this little weed in our lawns.
Origin and short history: The Clover originated in the Mediterranean region and was spread through Europe, north and western Asia and North Africa (it is assumed) by domestic animals. It is generally accepted that clover was introduced to Australia by accident in the 18th century by white European settlers. The clover is naturalized in all parts of the temperate world and some cooler parts of the sub-tropical world.
Description: Perennial (although can be annual in dry unfavourable conditions) prostrate, creeping leguminous plant 10-20cm tall that stems function as stolons (or runners) that can cause plant to grow by up to 18cm a year.
Foliage: Leaves are matt green, obovate or obcordate with a white V shaped mark in centre of 3 leaflets (sometimes 4 if you are lucky) giving you the classic shamrock shape.
Flowers: White to cream with pinkish tinge as flower ages consists of 40-100 florets. The heads are 1.5-2cm on 7cm peduncles. Flowering generally occurs from Spring to Summer but spot flowering can occur all year round
Fruit: Tiny pods with 1-3 seed.
Growth Requirements: Prefers disturbed soils or areas prone to regular mowing or grazing
Uses: Flowers are edible raw or cooked, young leaves can be used in soups and salad, dried leaves can be put into cakes to add a vanilla flavour, a sweet tea can be made from fresh or dried flowers. Medical uses for the flower include cleansing of the blood and help with wounds, coughs and colds and disorders of the eyes. Bee attracting, nitrogen fixing.
Propagation: From seed or rhizomes.
Other interesting facts: The nitrogen fixing ability of Trifolium repens comes from its symbiotic relationship with the Rhizobium trifolii bacteria resulting in nodules that take nitrogen out of the atmosphere and provide it to the legumes roots. In return the plant provides the bacteria with organic compounds made by photosynthesis. Trifolium repens or ‘White Clover’ will actually make your lawn greener, with minimum fertilizer. Where clover or bindi or any other weed take over your lawn is because it is: 1/- cut too short (allowing lawn to grow to 100mm will provide competition to weeds minimizing them considerably if not altogether), 2/- soil is too compact (try aerating soil) and 3/- under fertilized (use organic fertilizer and mulch lawn-mower clippings back into lawn rather than taking them away depleting soil further. Remember because of its nitrogen fixing ability Clover will be the only thing that will be fertilized if you’re stripping your lawn every week). A clever way to eradicate weeds in your lawn is with boiling water applied directly to plant.
So, after reading much about this topic what would my recommendations be to my future customers. Allow your lawn to grow taller which will smoother out majority of problem and allow a small amount of clover that will definitely improve the soil and grass growing conditions. I hope you have enjoyed today’s blog and maybe have a new found respect for Trifolium repens. See you next time on ‘My Walkabout Plants’.
- Gardeners companion to weeds by Suzanne Ermert and Leigh Clapp.