Identifying Clover (Trifolium spp.)

From April to October, clover covers fields, meadows, and lawns in Ontario. Their flower heads add splashes of colour in the sea of green and provide food for pollinators, like honeybees and bumblebees.

There are three common clover species here in Ontario. They are white clover (T. repens), red clover (T. pratense), and aslike clover (T. hybridum). If you live in North America, you’ve probably encountered all of them at some point. Here’s some tips for identifying these clover species:

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

White clover is the shortest of these three clovers. It’s 4-10 inches in height. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that it creeps along the ground. The flower stalks attach to a runner. For this reason, some people know T. repens as the “creeping clover.” It’s the only clover on this list that spreads like this.

Flowers: T. repens has white flowers that are sometimes tinged with pale pink. I notice that this colour change usually occurs at the bottom of the flower head. Older flowers will turn brown and begin to droop.

Leaves: T. repens has three leaflets with light “V” marks on them. The leaves are an oval-shape.

Four-leaved clovers: All the clovers on this list have three leaflets. The scientific name for clover is Trifolium + the species name. “Tri” (three) + “folium” (leaf). You’ve likely heard of lucky four-leaved clovers. Some clover plants have a rare genetic variation that results in them producing four or more leaflets. Approximately, 1 in 5000 clovers have four leaves.

Red Clover (T. pratense)

Red clover (T. pratense) is the second tallest clover on this list, growing 6-16 inches. I wrote about the nutritional and edible properties of red clover some time ago, you can find that information here.

Flowers: Despite its name, red clover has bright pink / purple coloured flowers arranged on a round flower head. Tiny hairs, called trichomes, cover the stems of red clover.

Leaves: T. pratense has compound leaves with three oval leaflets. The leaflets are fine-toothed and have “V” marks that look similar to white clover.

Alsike Clover (T. hybridum)

Alsike clover (T. hybridum) grows the tallest of these clovers, up to 1 – 2 feet. They are stunning with their vibrant mix of pink and white hues.

Flowers: Alsike flowers can be pink or white. Often, the flower heads have a mix of both. Like all clover flowers, alsike flowers turn into brown seed heads as they age.

Leaves: Look for three oval-shaped leaflets that are finely toothed. Alsike leaves do not have the distinct “V” shaped pattern that red and white clover have.

Resources

I hope that this post helps with identifying clover. Here are some additional resources that you can use for reference:

Foster, Steven and James A. Duke. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd edition.

Peterson, Lee Allen. Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants Eastern / Central North America.

Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Alsike Clover Poisoning, Photosensitization or Photodermatitis in Horses.

HorseDMV. Alsike Clover.

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