Trifolium hybridum L.


Herbaceous, short-lived perennial forage legume with fine-stemmed semi-erect, indeterminate growth habit. It has no stolons or rhizomes. Used for pasture or hay in mixtures with other legumes and cool-season grasses in humid regions with mild winters. Behaves as an annual or biennial in higher elevation and colder winter climate zones. Can also be used for soil improvement in wet, acid soil conditions.


Life cycle: 
Short-lived perennial
Growth Season: 
Identification Characteristics: 

Inflorescence is an almost spherical axillary raceme about 0.75-1.4 inches (2-3.5 cm) in diameter.  Seed head is similar to white clover, but more pinkish-white. Each raceme has 30-50 white or pale pink flowers which are 6-11 mm long. Flowers bend downwards after pollination and are brown at maturity. Stems are indeterminant, semi-erect, glabrous (not hairy), long, thin, and hollow, usually reaching 1-3 feet (30-90 cm). Palmately trifoliate leaves with equal-length petiolules. Can be distinguished from red clover by the absence of crescent-shaped marks on each leaflet, more conspicuously toothed leaflets, and prominent veins that appear to extend beyond the edge (margin). Stipules are continuously tapering, with greenish veins, and sharply pointed. Has a many-branched tap root that penetrates deep into the subsoil.  Each seed pod is about 1 cm (0.4 inches) long and contains 3-5 seeds that vary in color from dull green to nearly black. Seeds are small (1 mm long, 0.9-1.0 mm wide) with 700,000 seeds/lb (1,540,000 seeds/kg). They are heart-shaped, greenish-brown, with tinges of red, aging to a darker brown (less red than white clover seed).

Growth Habit and Production

Growth Habit and Persistence: 

Alsike clover has a fine-stemmed, semi-erect, indeterminate growth habit. It has no stolons or rhizomes. It is a short-lived perennial.

Production Profile: 

Alsike clover grows best in cool, humid climates, with spring growth beginning when temperatures are above 40 °F (5 °C); growth is severely reduced above 86 °F (30 °C).  It has a medium yield potential, comparable to white clover and less than red clover. Mixed with grasses, yearly production on well-managed sites with adequate moisture will be 10,000-12,000 lbs dry matter per acre (~11,000-13,500 kg/ha).

Seasonal production profile will show greatest production in late spring and autumn periods.

Climate and Soil Suitability Zones

Climate Tolerances: 

Grown in the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes region of the upper Midwest. Important forage legume in areas suited to clover-timothy production. Requires 25-40 inches (635-1000 mm) of precipitation or irrigation. Low heat and drought tolerance; requires irrigation if soil moisture is low. Moderate winter hardiness and tolerates frost heaving. 

Soil Tolerances: 

Wet, high clay content soils. Produces well in areas not suitable for red clover. Tolerates long spring flooding of 7-30 days. Tolerates strongly acid soil conditions (pH 5.1-7.3). Moderately sensitive to salinity (1.5-3 dS/m).

Quantitative Tolerances: 

Alsike Clover Suitability Tolerance Values

Suitability Class

Ave Ann Extreme Min (°C)*

July Max


Annual Precip (mm)**

Soil pH***

Soil Drainage 

Soil Salinity (dS/m)#








Moderately suited







Marginally suited







*Low temperature: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones – based on average annual extreme minimum temperature: 3-5; annual in wet soils in zones 6-7.

  Latitude suitability: 40-48’ N.

**Not drought or heat tolerant.

   Rooting: branched taproot to 4 feet (130 cm).

*** Soil pH: NRCS Range and Pasture Handbook, Chapter 3 classification is Strongly Acid: 5.1-7.3.  (Y=101.8*EXP{-0.5*[(x -6.52)/0.885]^2};R2=0.98; Optimum is 6.5.)

† Soil drainage: NRCS Range and Pasture Handbook, Chapter 3 classification for alsike clover is WD-PD. Soil drainage class abbreviations: 1=VPD, very poorly drained; 2=PD, poorly drained; 3=SPD, somewhat poorly drained; 4=MWD, moderately well drained, 5=WD, well drained; 6=SED, somewhat excessively drained; 7=ED, excessively drained. Percent relative yield for arrowleaf clover for the classes 1-7: 5, 20, 55, 100, 100, 55, 20, respectively.

# Soil salinity: NRCS Range and Pasture Handbook, Chapter 3 classification for clovers (alsike, Berseem, white, red, strawberry) is moderately sensitive (1.5-3 DS/m). (Y=100.23 - 7.61 x - 2.84 x2)

Quality and Antiquality Factors

Quality Factors: 

Very palatable to cattle. Crude protein and digestibility decline with advancing maturity.

Anti-quality Factors: 

Can cause bloat and photosensitization. Implicated in “alsike clover poisoning” in horses which leads to liver disease. Although the literature does not provide conclusive evidence of causality, do not include in seed mixes for horse pastures.


Once thought to be a hybrid of white and red clover (hence the Latin species name), alsike is a distinct species. Cultivars are either diploid or tetraploid. Common alsike clover is diploid. Tetraploids are taller, have larger leaves and flowers and are later maturing. ‘Tetra’ is a tetraploid cultivar developed in Sweden.

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Books and Book Chapters

  • Forages: An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture (7th Edition, 2018)
    • Sheaffer, Craig C., M. Scott Wells, and Jerry Nelson. 2018. Legumes for Northern Areas. Chapter 8 In: Forages: An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture. Seventh Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Clover Science &Technology (Agronomy Monograph No. 25, 1985)

Extension Fact Sheets and Circulars

  • Oregon State University 
  • University of Minnesota: Forage Legumes - Clovers, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Cicer Milkvetch, Crownvetch and Alfalfa. Station Bulletin 608-2003. (Out of print)
  • Purdue Forages - Alsike Clover
  • University of Wyoming - Alsike Clover

USDA NRCS Plant Guide, Fact Sheet, and Plant Profile