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White Clover (Trifolium repens)

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Summary

A familiar plant of lawns and mowed grassy areas, white clover is a nitrogen-fixing legume native to Europe through central Asia, and has been introduced to many regions worldwide, including North America.

USDA Plants Profile for Trifolium repens

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Trifolium repens

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Habitat

Prefers full to partial sun and mesic conditions. Usually restricted to lawns and other regularly mowed areas, where it is common. Its low height makes it get outcompeted by other vegetation in areas that are not mowed regularly.

Uses

The main use of white clover is as a forage or animal feed; it is one of the most important forage crops. When grown as a crop, white clover serves a dual purpose of producing forage and fixing nitrogen. It is usually planted together with other forage plants, such as grasses. It works well in pastures because it tolerates close grazing by livestock.

White clover can also be used in gardens and agriculture as a companion planting, especially in poor soils, where it serves a dual role of soil cover and nitrogen fixation.

Although sometimes viewed as a weed, usually by people less knowlegeable about ecology who try to eliminate all broadleaf plants from lawns, white clover can be intentionally added to lawns and grass mixes, as it provides a natural nitrogen source. Such usage is particularly suited to sites with poor soils, although it is not able to thrive on the driest sites, and some other legumes can perform better in these situations.

There are several other Trifolium species overlapping with this one in most of North America. The native species are mostly rare with very limited distributions, but some of the other introduced species are more common.

Of these, red clover (Trifolium pratense) is most common; it has pink flowers, larger leaves, and a more upright growth habit.

Notes

White clover is the plant best-known for "four leaf clovers", widely thought to be lucky. However, the phenomenon of a normally trifoliate plant rarely having four or more leaflets occurs in most trifoliate species.

The focus on examples of this particular species having four leaflets may be due to the fact that it is so widespread, and occurs in lawns where it is easily visible, especially to children playing in the grass.

The occurence of four-leaf clovers (or even more rarely, plants with five or more leaflets) is probably influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. (source)

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