top of page

red clover (Trifolium pratense)




















red clover
purple clover
peavine clover
meadow clover


Trifolium borysthenicum Gruner
Trifolium bracteatum Schousb.
Trifolium lenkoranicum (Grossh.) Roskov
Trifolium pratense var. frigidum auct. non Gaudin
Trifolium pratense var. lenkoranicum Grossh.
Trifolium pratense var. sativum (P. Mill.) Schreb.
Trifolium ukrainicum Opperma


CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of red clover is

Trifolium pratense L. Among the various Trifolium spp. (Clovers), red
clover is fairly easy to identify because of its large pink flowerheads and
the white chevrons on its leaflets. It is unusual among the clovers in hav-

ing sessile leaflets at the base of the flowerheads. There is some variabil-

ity in the hairiness of the foliage and the color of the flowers. The common

name is somewhat misleading because the flowers are never a true red. On

rare occasions, a compound leaf will produce 4 or more leaflets.


NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.




Habit: This introduced perennial plant is ½–2' tall, branching occasionally.

The hairy stems are sprawling or erect.


Leaves: The alternate compound leaves are trifoliate. The lower com-

pound leaves have long hairy petioles, while the upper leaves have
short petioles or they are sessile. The leaflets are up to 2" long and ¾"
across. They are oval-ovate or slightly obovate; sometimes they are a
little broader below the middle. Their margins are smooth and ciliate and
their tips are blunt. Toward the middle of the upper surface of each leaflet,
there is usually a chevron that is white or light green. The leaflets are
sessile and lack petioles of their own. At the base of each compound leaf,
there is a pair of ovate stipules up to ½" long.


Flowers: The upper stems terminate in flowerheads that are spheroid or

ovoid. Usually there are 1-3 leaflets immediately beneath each flowerhead,

as well as several green bracts with tips that abruptly taper to a slender tip.

Each flowerhead is about 1" across and consists of numerous flowers.

These flowers are sessile, tubular- shaped, and spread outward in different directions. Each flower has 5 narrow petals that are pink or purplish pink, becoming light pink or white toward the base of the flowerhead. The upper

petal is slightly longer than the lower petals. The light green calyx of each

flower has 5 slender teeth and is usually hairy. However, a few plants may

bloom later in the summer or fall. The flowers have a mild honey-like fra-

grance, while the foliage, when it exists in abundance, produces a distinc-

tive clover-like aroma that is quite pleasant.


Fruit/Seeds: Each flower is replaced by a small seedpod containing 1 or
2 heart-shaped seeds.


Roots: The root system consists of a taproot and produces rhizomes. This

plant can spread vegetatively or by reseeding itself.


REGENERATION PROCESS: Red clover propogates itself by reseed-

ing and by vegetative rhizome spread.


HABITAT TYPES: Red clover was introduced from Eurasia as a fodder

crop for farm animals and as a cover crop to improve agricultural soil.

Habitats include fields, pastures, weedy meadows, vacant lots, grassy
areas along roads, waste areas, and degraded prairie remnants. This plant
occurs in native habitats occasionally, but it is only slightly to moderately
aggressive. It is often found in grassy areas that are not subjected to regu-

lar mowing.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Red clover grows best on well-drained

loamy soils, but it will also grow on soil that is not as well-drained.
Medium and fine textured soils are preferred by the plant over sandy or
gravelly soils. It is best adapted to a pH of 6.0 or higher. The preference

is full sun although partial sun is tolerated; this plant adds nitrogen to the

soil by forming root nodules that accommodate rhizobial bacteria.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period usually occurs
from late spring to mid-summer and lasts about 1-2 months.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Red clover is one of the most ubiquitous

species of plants in North America. Although it has not yet been reported

from some regions of the far northern Canadian territories, it is probable

that is occurs in all state and provinces of the United States and Canada

(including Greenland).




IMPORTANCE AND USES: The nectar and pollen of the flowers
attract many kinds of long-tongued bees, including bumblebees, Antho-

phorine bees, Mason bees, and Large leaf-Cutting bees (Megachilini

Tribe). Butterflies, skippers, and day-flying Sphinx moths also visit the

flowers for nectar. Typical visitors among the butterflies include swallow-

tails, monarchs, painted ladies, whites, and sulfurs. The caterpillars of

several butterflies feed on the foliage, including Everes comyntas (eastern

tailed-blue), Colias eurytheme (orange sulfur), Colias philodice (clouded

sulfur), and Colias cesonia (dogfaced sulfur). The caterpillars of many

moth species feed on the foliage of this and other Trifolium spp. as well.

Both the seedheads and foliage are eaten occasionally by upland gamebirds, including the ruffed grouse, greater prairie chicken, wild turkey, and ring-

necked pheasant. Similarly, many small mammals eat the seedheads and/or foliage, including the cottontail rabbit, groundhog, thirteen-lined ground

squirrel, and meadow vole. Among the hoofed browsers, the foliage of red

clover is readily eaten by deer, horses, cattle, and sheep. The value of red

clover to wildlife and domestic animals is high.


Red clover is primarily used for hay, pasture, silage, and soil improvement.
It is a quick growing crop, easily established, and produces high quality
forage. Tolerance of shade allows red clover to be used effectively as a
cover crop under silage corn.



Back to Inventory of Herb/Forb Families and Species

Home Page

Park Activities

   Calendar of Events
Volunteer Programs

   Park Regulations

Sky Meadows Park
   Visiting Park

   Virtual Tours

Crooked Run Valley

   Historic District

   Architecture Sites

   Mt. Bleak

   Historical Events

   Park History


Special Projects

   Blue Bird

   Biodiversity Survey



Home Page

Nature Guide






















bottom of page