The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …
How many times have you searched a patch of clover hoping to find one that had four leaves instead of the typical three? I’ve done it a lot and have only found a four-leaf clover once. I pressed it in my scrapbook as a young girl without realizing that the pages in my scrapbook would turn it into a crumbly mess. In later years, as I pressed flowers and made framed ‘pictures’ of my designs, I learned that you need a different type of paper (and a better pressing mechanism) to keep the color in your pressed flower or leaf.
Clover used to be included in grass seed because it is able to ‘fix nitrogen’ (convert nitrogen in the air into ammonia used by plants). Today people who want pristine lawns consider white clover to be a weed. The main reason it was removed from lawn seeds was because bees are quite fond of the nectar from the blossoms and therefore present a ‘danger’ to someone going barefoot. I remember stepping on bees frequently as a kid and since I am not highly allergic to bee stings never had any problems other than the pain of the sting itself. Since we’ve had periodic issues with declines in honey bees and other pollinators clover is now considered a component of organic lawns.
White Clover (a.k.a. Dutch Clover) is an excellent forage crop for livestock and, according to the USDA plant fact sheet, is a favorite of deer and elk. All parts of the plant are actually edible but some people are allergic to the plant. Leaves should be cooked and were used for teas in both European and American Indian folk medicine. The Europeans used the tea for rheumatism and gout; American Indians used it for “colds, coughs, fevers and leukorrhea” (Peterson’s Field Guides Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs).
Family: Fabaceae (pea); Genus: Trifolium; Species: repens
Red Clover (called so even though it more pink than red) is classified as a weed. While it has some promising anti-cancer properties it also can contain the indolizidine alkaloid slaframine which is poisonous without showing any signs of disease in the plant. Fall forage cuts can cause frothing in cattle as well as decreased milk production. This is one of the plants we should just enjoy for its unique color and leaf pattern rather than attempting to eat any part of it.
Family: Fabaceae (pea); Genus: Trifolium; Species: pratense
Low Hop Clover is a smaller version of the Golden Hop Clover. It contains ‘hop’ in its name due to the way dying blossom parts droop – resembling dried hops.
Family: Fabaceae (pea); Genus: Trifolium; Species: campestre (or procubens)
The last clover I’m including is widely cultivated to enrich soils during crop rotations. The Crimson Clover plant is plowed back into the soil when it matures. It is also known as Italian Clover.
Family: Fabaceae (pea); Genus: Trifolium; Species: incarnatum
There are many other clovers to explore and you can find out more about those at the Lady Bird Johnson Flower Center.