rabbit-foot clover (Trifolium arvense)
hare's foot clover
Trifolium arvense L. var. arvense
Trifolium arvense L. var. perpusillum DC.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for rabbit-foot
clover is Trifolium arvense L.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION:
Habit: Rabbit-foot clover is an annual (less often a biennial) about 4-16"
tall, branching occasionally to abundantly. The erect to ascending stems
are medium green, hairy, and circular in cross section.
Leaves: Alternate trifoliate leaves occur at intervals along these stems.
These leaves have short hairy petioles. Individual leaflets are ½-1" long
and about one-third as much across; they are elliptic, elliptic-oblong, or oblanceolate-oblong in shape. Leaflet margins are usually smooth and
ciliate, although sometimes there are tiny teeth towards their tips. The up-
per leaflet surface is medium green and sparsely covered with appressed
long hairs, while the lower surface is hairy. The leaflets are sessile or near-
ly so. At the base of the petiole of each compound leaf, there is a pair of
stipules about ¼" long. The green body of each stipule usually adheres to
the petiole, while its awn- like tip is detached from the petiole and it is
either green or red.
Flowers: Individual flowerheads about ½-1½" long and ½" across termi-
nate the stems or develop from the axils of the leaves. These flowerheads
are pinkish gray with a fuzzy-hairy appearance and they are globoid to
short-cylindrical in shape. Each flowerhead has a short peduncle that is
similar to the stems. Numerous small flowers are densely arranged along
all sides and the entire length of a flowerhead. Each flower is about ¼" in
length, consisting of a white corolla with 5 petals, a greenish-red calyx
with 5 long bristly teeth, several inserted stamens, and a pistil with a sin-
gle style. The body of the calyx is short-tubular and hairy, while the teeth
are usually reddish with white feathery hairs; these teeth extend beyond
the corolla. The narrow corolla consists of a banner (upper petal), a pair
of wings (2 lateral petals), and a small keel (2 lower petals); the banner
extends beyond the other petals and functions like a hood. The blooming
period occurs during the summer and lasts about 2-3 months. The flowers
are capable of self-fertilization in the absence of cross-pollination.
Fruit/Seeds: Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by small seedpods
about 1/8" in long; they are partially hidden by the persistent calyx. Each
seedpod contains a single seed about 1.0-1.5 mm. in length.
Roots: Deep rooting with stems freely root along the ground at the nodes.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Rabbit-foot clover propogates itself
by reseeding often forming colonies of plants at favorable sites.
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats consist of upland sand prairies, areas along
railroads, sandy fields, and waste areas. Relatively open disturbed areas
are preferred where competition from other kinds of ground vegetation
has been reduce. Common habitats where rabbit-foot clover is found are
fields (particularly old or abandoned fields), meadows, roadsides, or any
other waste area. It can invade unkept lawns or gardens, and is often found
in distrubed areas due to clearing or construction.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Rabbit-foot clover is usually in dry (often
sandy) soils, at low elevations. It prefers full sun.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Rabbit-foot clover blooms from May
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Originally from Europe, rabbit-foot
clover is found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, ranging
from Florida to Newfoundland, and westward to Texas north to Manitoba.
It is absent from the far southwest and much of the Rocky Mountain states
and provinces. It reappears in the far Pacific Coast states and provinces,
from California to British Columbia.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The insect pollinators of the flowers con-
sist of a variety of bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, leaf-cutting
bees (Mega- chile spp.), and Halictid bees. Small butterflies and skippers
may visit the flowers to a lesser extent. These insects suck nectar from the
flowers. The remaining information about floral-faunal relationships in
this section applies primarily to Trifolium spp. (clovers) in general. Many
insects feed on the foliage, stem pith, roots, or other parts of clovers.
These species include Hypera nigrirostris (lesser cloverleaf weevil),
Hypera punctata (cloverleaf weevil), Sitona hispidulus (clover root weevil), Languria mozardi (clover stem borer), Nearctaphis bakeri (clover aphid)
and other aphids, Philaenus spumaria (meadow spittlebug), Agalliota
sanguinolenta (clover leafhopper), Agalliota quadripunctatus (four-spotted
leafhopper), Sericothrips cingulatus (thrips spp.), Melanoplus sanguinipes
(migratory grasshopper) and other grasshoppers, and the caterpillars of
many moths . In addition, the caterpillars of some butterflies and skippers
feed on clovers, including Colias eurytheme (orange sulfur), Colias philo-
dice (clouded sulfur), Everes comyntas (eastern tailed blue), and Thorybes
pylades (northern cloudywing). Some vertebrate animals also use clovers
as a source of food. For example, such upland gamebirds as the greater
prairie chicken and wild turkey feed on the foliage and seeds, while such
songbirds as the mourning dove, horned lark, and chipping sparrow feed
on the seeds only. The foliage is also eaten by some mammals, including
rabbits, groundhogs, deer, horses, cattle, and sheep. Because the flower-
heads of rabbit-foot clover are exceptionally hairy, their consumption
can damage the health of horses and domestic livestock by causing abdom-
inal obstruction. In open sandy areas, the Plains pocket gopher feeds on
the foliage and roots of clovers. Similarly, the thirteen-lined ground
squirrel eats their seedpods.
Like most legumes, it fixes nitrogen, making it valued on low fertility
soils for the benefit it gives to other crop species in supplying nitrogen. It
is also grazed by sheep and goats. However, outside of agricultural/graz-
ing purposed, rabbit-foot clover can be an invasive species in some areas.
Crooked Run Valley