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What is a Clover Plant?

Discover interesting facts about the clover plants as we give you a complete background of these small, fragrant blossoms. We've included great tips on how to grow these perennials that are a wonderful addition to any outdoor green space.

Close up photos of bright pink clover flower spokes growing at the tips of stems and clover leaves

Genus Trifolium

The common clover, or trefoil, is a member of the genus trifolium that contains over 300 species of flowering plants. This genus is part of the pea legume botanical family, fabaceae.

Members of this plant family are native to mostly the northern hemisphere in temperate and subtropical regions. However, they do also occur at high altitudes in South America and Africa. They cannot survive in southeast Asia or Australia.

Clovers are a rather small, either biennial annual, or short lived perennial herbaceous plant. They are wonderfully resilient and can tolerate constant mowing (that’s why they’re so prosperous on grassy lawns) and they incorporate valuable nutrients to the soil that they exist in.

Though clovers aren’t the most beautiful plant out there and they aren’t known for having extravagant flowers, they are valuable in their own right! If you’re looking for something more ornamental, head on over to our list of Beautiful Flowering Plants where you’ll find that perfect show stopper for your green space.

Looking down at green clover plants with three leaves

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What do Clover Plants Look Like?

Flowers

Clover flowers are very easily recognizable, and chances are that you’ve seen one without ever knowing that it was a clover flower!

A clover flower is borne as a flower head consisting of dense spikes of flowers. They are roughly spherical in shape and can be colors ranging from red, purple, white, or yellow.

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These very fragrant flowers attract many different pollinators with their sweet nectar, and they are actually edible to humans as well! Though it be best to avoid this as these ground dwellers are subject to sullying by various species and urban pollution.

Flowers produce fruit in the flower of small seeded pods enclosed in the calyx. Each seed pod contains 1 or 2 seeds that drops to the ground wherein another plant will grow!

Hyper detailed photo of clover flower spikes growing in a flower head with three clover leaves growing beneath

Leaves

The easiest way to recognize a clover is by its leaves. The clover is sometimes mistaken as a shamrock plant, when these are actually part of the genus oxalis (like oxalis acetosella or oxalis triangularis).

Clover leaves are trifoliate, meaning that they usually occur in groups of three, though rarely they occur quatrefoil, cinquefoil, or septfoil. Certainly you’ve all spent countless hours in clover patches searching for that coveted four leaf clover.

Whether they occur in groups of 3, 4, or more, each leaf is simple in shape and very round. They have a smooth texture and are a gentle green color with smooth margins.

Growth Pattern

Clovers are small plants and usually only grow to be about 12 inches tall, if that. They rarely get the chance to grow as tall as they would like as they are constantly mowed over, since they tend to grow on grassy lawns.

Since clovers reproduce by seed, they grow in a spreading pattern across large areas. Seeds are slightly too heavy to be wind dispersed, and so they must be carried by small mammals and birds in order to spread to other areas. Depending on the growing region, they can be either an annual clover, perennial, or biennial.

Field of clovers covered in dew with one four leaf clover growing in the centre

What are Some Clover Species?

White Clover or Dutch Clover (Trifolium Repens)

Tall stems of white clover plants with white clover flowers growing at the tips

The most common type of clover is the white clover. This perennial grows abundantly in pastures and meadows, and they are recognized by having white or pink flowers.

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The most popular cultivar of white clover is the ladino clover. It is commercially harvested because it has a greater protein quality and is valuable for cattle fodder. It thrives in cool and wet climates and is excellent to forage.

Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense)

Beautiful bright red clover flowers growing in a large field

The red clover is a clover species that is native to Europe and Western Asia. This short lived, herbaceous perennial is unique in having alternately arrange trifoliate leaves and a deep taproot. They are also significantly taller and can grow to be 31 inches tall.

Swedish Clover (Trifolium Gybridum)

Incredible field of two toned clover plants with white and pink flowers growing in abundance

The Swedish clover is very similar in appearance and growing range to the red clover plant. These perennials are differentiated by their white or rosy pink flowers.

Meadow Clover or Zigzag Clover (Trifolium Medium)

Focus on bright pink zigzag clover flower growing in a large field in the sunshine

The meadow clover is well suited to its name. It differs from other species because of its long and straggling stems that are very flexible and create a zigzag appearance when blowing in the wind in clover meadows.

Hare’s-Foot Trefoil (Trifolium Arvense)

Beautiful and delicate flowers of the rabbits foot or hare's foot clover growing at the ends of long stems

The hare’s-foot clover is most commonly found growing in drier pastures and fields, whereas most other species prefer moist conditions. They are known for having hairy stems and white clover flowers or pale pink flowers.

Strawberry Clover (Trifolium Fragiferum)

Fuzzy and pink strawberry clover flower growing in dense stem forest

The strawberry clover gets its name from its strawberry pink flower heads, though they can sometimes be borne as yellow flowers as well. They grow along roadsides and in dry pastures.

Where do Clovers Grow?

There are many different clover species in the genus trifolium, and they grow in abundance in the temperate northern hemisphere. There are many other species that occur in South America and Africa as well, but this is mostly in mountainous regions at high altitudes.

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Clovers mostly occur in temperate and subtropical regions, and therefore do not grow naturally in southeastern Asia or Australia.

They are wonderfully resilient plants and usually grow in meadows, pastures, fields, and all over urban green space areas as well. They grow happily alongside lawn grasses all over the world in USDA growing zones 4 through 9.

Field of white clover plants growing at the end of long green stems with white flowers

How do you Grow a Clover Plant?

When at a nursery and deciding on what seeds to purchase and try out in your garden, it is common to graze over the package of clover seeds. Next time you’re browsing, it would be wise to pick up a package!

This is because clover is a wonderful companion plant for others that may lack nitrogen. Planting clover will help encourage nitrogen fixing bacteria which is very good for soil health.

The best way to cultivate a clover patch is through early spring seeding, usually in April or May. These plants aren’t too picky about sun exposure or water levels, so any spot on your property will do.

Simply choose a spot where healthy lawn grass is already established (or you can spread perennial clover seed and grass seed at the same time). Mow the grass as low as possible so that the clover seeds have as much sun exposure as possible.

Then sprinkle the clover seed all over the grass. When clover and grass is planted together, the lawn will require absolutely no fertilization thanks to the nitrogen fixing bacteria courtesy of the clover!

Clover will perform best if they can exist in moist soils for the first portion of their lives. Once they are well established, they become incredible drought tolerant and do not need regular watering.

Single bright pink clover flower growing in a field with beautiful green leaves

What are the Growing Conditions of a Clover Plant?

Soil Type

When it comes to clover, they have absolutely no requirements in terms of soil quality. Different species exist in rocky soils, others in clay soils, some in very dry soil, and others in water logged soils.

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Clovers have a handy way of creating their own nutrients to incorporate into the soil, therefore they do not need to rely on external climate conditions.

Sun Exposure

Clovers also don’t require specific sun exposure. They can tolerate full sun, partial shade, or full shade. It is helpful for them to experience some sun exposure when they first go to seed, though it is not entirely necessary.

Water Level

Clovers are both drought tolerant and flood tolerant. When clovers are first becoming established they respond very well to regular watering, though it is not a requirement once they are established.

One beautiful green clover plant growing on an old tree stump with sunlight shining through the leaves

Temperature

Clovers are tolerant to cold temperatures, but not so much to hot temperatures. This is why they only grow naturally in temperate and subtropical regions around the world. They can exist in USDA growing zones 4 through 9.

Pruning

Though it isn’t at all a necessity, clovers can be mowed down over and over again and their little clover heads will continue to pop up a couple of days later. They can tolerate constant mowing as well as heavy foot traffic and they will not perish.

Fertilizer

As mentioned before, clovers have a nifty mechanism where they incorporate nitrogen into soil naturally, and therefore do not require any fertilizer.

Intolerances

You may have guessed already, but clovers are almost too easy to grow. However, keep in mind that they may be shorter lived if they exist in super acidic soil, and this tends to attract various pests and diseases that offset the nutrient balance of the soil.

Looking down at perfect clover patch with bright green triad leaves

How are Clovers Used?

Crop Cultivation

Clovers are cultivated as fodder plants because they are high in valuable nourishments such as calcium, protein, and phosphorous. They are palatable by grazing animals both in their green stage or in their dry stage.

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They are a very long time stable cover crop for silaging because they grow vigorously and continue to crop up after repeated mowings. They are also very nutritious for pasture animals and they erase the need to introduce fertilizer to a crop.

Beekeeping

Clovers are also very valuable to beekeepers. Clover flowers are very good at attracting pollinators (and other beneficial insects) and introduce a very pleasant and unique taste to the honey as well.

This symbiosis creates relationships with farmers who have thriving clover fields and beekeepers who are searching for the perfect place for their bee colony.

Beautiful lawn with green grass and white clover flowers growing in the sunlight

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