Bean family (Fabaceae)
Description: This introduced perennial plant is ½–2' tall, branching occasionally. The stems are round and hairless, or nearly so. Alternate compound leaves occur along these stems. They are trifoliate, and have long petioles. Where the petiole joins the stem, there are a pair of membranous stipules that are broadly lanceolate. The individual leaflets are about ½" long, and either oblong or obovate in shape. They are neither sharply pointed nor indented at their tips, while their margins are finely serrate. Unlike some Trifolium spp., there are no chevrons (white markings) on the upper surface of these leaflets. The foliage is hairless.
From the stipules of the upper stems, there are flowering stalks that terminate in well-rounded flowerheads about ½–¾" across. Each flower is about ¼" long and very slender, consisting of a tubular corolla and 5 lobe-like petals. Like other pea-like flowers, there is a standard, two side petals, and a keel, but they are tubular and narrow. The calyx of each flower is white with long slender teeth that are green. It is much shorter than the corolla. The flowers are usually some shade of whitish pink. The blooming period occurs intermittently during the summer for 1-3 months. The root system consists of a taproot and secondary roots that form nodes with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and moist to mesic soil that is slightly acidic. This plant flourishes in a loam or clay-loam soil.
Range & Habitat: Alsike Clover is a common plant that occurs in every county of Illinois (see Distribution Map). However, it appears to be less common than either Trifolium pratense (Red Clover) and Trifolium repens (White Clover). Alsike Clover was originally introduced from Europe, probably for agricultural purposes. Typical habitats includes moist meadows near woodlands, pastures, abandoned fields, and roadsides. It does not tolerate regular lawn-mowing as well as White Clover.
Faunal Associations: Long-tongued bees visit the flowers for pollen or nectar, including honeybees. Many kinds of insects feed on the foliage, including the caterpillars of the butterflies Colias philodice (Clouded Sulfur) and Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulfur). The caterpillars of many moths feed on the foliage and other parts of Trifolium spp. (see Moth Table). Because the foliage contains oxalic acid, it is mildly toxic to some mammalian herbivores if it is eaten in sufficiently large amounts. Nonetheless, livestock, rabbits, and groundhogs readily consume it, like other clovers. The foliage, flowerheads, and seedpods are eaten by upland gamebirds, including the Greater Prairie Chicken, Wild Turkey, and Bobwhite. The Horned Lark and Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel also eat the seedpods.
Photographic Location: The photograph was taken of a plant growing in a meadow near a woodland in Judge Webber Park, Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: While this is a weedy species, its value to wildlife is rather high. Alsike Clover resembles Trifolium repens (White Clover), except its leaves develop from the stems rather than from runners in the ground, and there are no chevrons (white-markings) on its leaflets. Alsike Clover is usually somewhat taller than White Clover, and its flowerheads are usually more pinkish in appearance. It differs from Trifolium pratense (Red Clover) in being a smaller, less hairy plant, with smaller flowerheads that are less reliably pink. Red Clover has chevrons on its leaflets, while Alsike Clover doesn't.