White Clover is a naturalized, invasive, nitrogen fixing perennial with an erect to creeping stem, seldom more that 6 to 8 inches high. It branches from the base and can root from the stems which are hairless and light green in color.
The leaves are 3-parted on long stalks from the base part of the stem and also from along the creeping part of the stem. Each leaflet is elliptical, about 3/4 to 1 inch wide, with finely toothed margins and in the center of the leaflet may be lighter color chevron shape that looks like a watermark. These frequently fade or are not present at all. Leaflets are attached to the leaf at the same center point and are on very short stalks. There may be fine hair on the margin of the leaflets and on the leaf stalk. There is a pair of stipules at the base of the leaf.
The inflorescence is rounded cluster of 40 to 100 individually stalked flowers that is atop a long smooth stem that rises just above the leaves. These heads are about 1 inch wide.
The individual flowers are 5-part, tubular, with a green calyx having 5 small teeth around its edge. These teeth are about as long as the calyx tube itself. Each flower is about 1/4 to 1/3 inch long. The corolla is 2 to 3 times longer than the calyx and has 5 petals, usually white to pinkish-white, arranged in pea-like fashion with the largest petal being the standard (or banner) above the others in an erect position, 2 lateral petals project forward sheltering the 2 keel petals, hidden within which are the reproductive parts. Pollination is by bees and to a smaller extent by butterflies. Long tongues are needed to reach the nectaries.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a small flat seedpod that contains several, usually about 4, mostly flat, shovel shaped brown seeds that disburse by shaking of the stalk in the wind.
Habitat: White Clover is found in fields and waste places where there is full or partial sun and loamy soils. It grows best in cooler parts of the growing season, tolerates grazing or mowing and growing from a taproot plus vegetative growth from the rooting stems, it is hard to eradicate once established.
Names: The genus, Trifolium, means three leaves and refers to the 3-parted leaf. The species, repens, is used to describe creeping and rooting stems. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: White Clover is similar to Red Clover, T. pratense, except there the color of the flowers is reddish and that plant grows erect and is taller.
Above: White Clover can hold its stem erect when using other plants for support, otherwise only the flower stem is usually erect. Illustration courtesy of Kurt Stüber's Online Library.
Below: The flower cluster can have 40 to 100 individually stalked flowers. The corolla has a pea-like petal arrangement with the large standard above and 2 side petals enclosing the keel petals.
Below: 1st photo - From below the green calyx is visible, much shorter than the white corolla, but with 5 long pointed teeth. 2nd photo - Most leaves will show the lighter color chevron, but it frequently fades with time.
Below: The long taproot of White Clover
Notes: White Clover is indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler catalogued it on May 25, 1907. There are 7 clovers of the genus Trifolium found in Minnesota, all are non-native. It is a native plant of Europe that has become naturalized in most of the counties of the State and appears almost anywhere in North America. It is invasive and spreading must be controlled outside of agriculture, for which purpose, a large number of cultivars of the plant have been developed over the years.
Uses: White Clover is an important pasture plant grown for forage for cattle and used by most browsing wildlife. In Europe in older times the seeds and dried flowers were made into a bread-food in times of famine. Fernald (Ref. #6), quoting John Lightfoot in Flora Scotica, reports that bread made that way in Scotland was said to be nutritious and wholesome.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"