Plant of the Week ~ Trifolium pratense (Red Clover)

Botanical illustration showing the delicate details of Trifolium pratense
Botanical illustration showing the delicate details of Trifolium pratense.

It’s time for another plant of the week and this time we are taking a look at the charming perennial, Trifolium pratense (Red Clover). Growing to 0.6 by 0.6 metres in height and spread, red clover typically flowers from late spring to early autumn. Commonly found growing in grassy areas, pastures, meadows and lawns, many may view this plant as a weed. However, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

Cultivation & Care

Before and during flowering, Trifolium pratense are pretty plants with its distinct foliage
Before and during flowering, Trifolium pratense are pretty plants with its distinct foliage

While most soils provide a suitable growing medium for red clover, it will favour well-drained soil with a pH close to neutral (6.5 – 7.5). Medium-heavy loam soil is favoured most and it will grow well in nutrient poor soils. However, full sun is essential and it will not grow well in shady areas.

Red clover grows well with apple trees and will actually enhance the taste and storage life of the fruit. Avoid growing it near to camellias or gooseberries as the plant harbours a species of mite which can cause premature budding on camellias and fruit drop on gooseberries. Buttercups growing near to clover can depress the nitrogen-fixing qualities of the plant so avoid letting buttercup establish nearby to prevent this.

Edible Uses

Each flower is actually a composite flower which is an inflorescence made up of many flowers, which can be seen here.
Each flower is actually a composite flower which is an inflorescence made up of many flowers, which can be seen here.
  • Leaves ~ raw or cooked, young leaves should be harvested before flowering begins. They can be used in salads, soups or on their own treated like spinach.
  • Flowers ~ dried along with seed pods, these can be ground and used to make flour. Raw young flowers can be enjoyed in salads or on their own.
  • Roots ~ Can be eaten after cooking, treat as you would other tuber vegetables.
  • Tea ~ A sweet herbal tea can be brewed from fresh or dried flowers.

Uses

  • Green manure ~ A great cover crop for land in between use or on land being prepared for growing. Shallowly tilling into soil in spring before planting ensures an optimum supply of nitrogen to what you plant.
  • Dynamic accumulator ~ Red clover is especially good at mining for phosphorus deep within the soil, storing it in its leaves and depositing it into the top soil when the leaves fall and break down.
  • Medicinal plant ~ red clover has been used for centuries for many ailments. Some of it’s herbal effects include:  alterative, antipsoriatic, antiscrophulatic, antispasmodic, aperient, diuretic, expectorant, sedative, tonic.
  • Nitrogen-fixing ~ Red clover is a great nitrogen-fixing plant, which makes it a great companion for many plants, particularly nitrogen hungry plants such as leafy vegetables. It’s worth growing clover there in the previous growing season to prepare the soil for the growth of leafy vegetables.

Wildlife Gardening

A hungry bumblebee enjoying a visit to a flower of Trifolium pratense.
A hungry bumblebee enjoying a visit to a flower of Trifolium pratense.
  • Shelter plant ~ Red clover provides habitat for beneficial insects such as lacewings and parasitic wasps. Lacewings will lay eggs on the plant whereas parasitic wasps often use the plant as a place to hide and rest.
  • Nectar & pollen plant ~ Our precious pollinators love clover flowers, particularly bumblebees. Be prepared for a sea of bumblebees when clover is in bloom.
  • Food plant ~ The caterpillars of many moth and butterfly species rely on the foliage of red clover as an invaluable food source.

Compassionate Roots can help you create a vibrant wildlife garden for you and your family to enjoy all year round. Contact us for more information.

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