Trifolium pratense L.

Red Clover field
Symbol: 
TRPR2
Group: 
Dicot
Family: 
Fabaceae
Uses: 
Grazing
Hay
Monoculture or Mixture
Pasture
Pollinators
Silage
Soil Improvement (Green manure)
Description: 

Herbaceous, short-lived perennial legume widely used in temperate regions for forage, soil improvement, and as pollen and nectar source for bumblebees. Valued in mixtures with plantain and white clover as high-quality finishing pasture.

Identification

Type: 
Legume
Life cycle: 
Short-lived perennial
Growth Season: 
Cool
Identification Characteristics: 

Inflorescence is a spherical head composed of scores of rose-purple to magenta flowers. Pubescent stems are mostly upright with lower branching. Palmately trifoliate leaves have oblong leaflets with crescent-shaped watermarks. Large stipules have green or red veining. Short taproots may be replaced by secondary roots after first year. Seeds are mitten-shaped; ~ 2 mm long and 1.5 mm wide; color light yellow to dark purple; about the same size as alfalfa (272,000 /lb; 598,000 /kg).

Growth Habit and Production

Growth Habit and Persistence: 

Upright growing stems that originate from a narrow crown near the soil surface. Short-lived perennial. Persistence reduced by winter injury, high temperature, low moisture, and flooding.

Production Profile: 

As a cool-season legume, majority of growth is produced in late spring and early autumn. For hay and silage, red clover is harvested 2 or 3 times at early flowering stage. Rotationally grazed on pastures, with majority of production contributed by the accompanying grass.

 

Climate and Soil Suitability Zones

Climate Tolerances: 

Extensively grown in the humid region of North America, from Ontario and Quebec to Tennessee and South Carolina and intermountain and northwest regions [USDA Plant Hardiness zones 4-8; Jan mean minimum of -22 °F, -30 °C)]. Requires 25-40 inches (635-1000 mm) of precipitation or irrigation.

Soil Tolerances: 

Grows best in fertile, well-drained to somewhat poorly drained soils of high moisture-holding capacity. Tolerates strongly acid soils (pH 5.1-8.4) but maximum yields require pH of 5.8-7.5. Moderately sensitive to saline conditions (1.5-3 dS/m).

Quantitative Tolerances: 

Red Clover Suitability Tolerance Values

Suitability Class

Ave Ann Extreme Min  (°C)*

July Max

C)

Annual Precip (mm)**

Soil pH***

Soil Drainage 

Soil Salinity (dS/m)#

Well-suited

-34

32

812

5.8-7.5

MWD-WD

1-2

Moderately suited

-37

33

711

5.5-8.0

MWD-SPD

2-3

Marginally suited

-40

34

560

5.0-8.5

SPD-SED

3-4

* USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-8.

**Precipitation requirement: 25-40 inches (600-1000 mm). 

Rooting: Tap, many branched; to depth of two feet (75 cm).

*** Soil pH: NRCS Range and Pasture Handbook, Chapter 3 classification for red clover is strongly acid to moderately alkaline (5.1-8.4). Y=101.3*EXP{-0.5*[(x -6.71)/1.059]2}; Optimum is 6.7; Minimum is 2.16; Maximum is 11.26.

† 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 of red clover for the 7 class values: 0, 5, 25, 100, 100, 25, 5. : Y =118.4*EXP{-0.5*[(x - 4.5)/0.8577]2}; R2 = 0.99.

# 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; R2 = 0.99). Y=0, X=4.75.

 

Quality and Antiquality Factors

Quality Factors: 

Highly palatable and digestible forage with high percentage of rumen by-pass protein.

Anti-quality Factors: 

Bloat hazard when >30% of pasture mixture. Older cultivars produce compounds with estrogenic activities that can interfere with livestock breeding. 

Cultivars

Two types: early flowering or ‘medium’ and late flowering or ‘mammoth.’ Use late flowering types north of 60° N latitude.

Image Gallery

Resources

Publications: 

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 - Red Clover
  • University of Wyoming - Red Clover

USDA NRCS Plant Guide, Fact Sheet, and Plant Profile

Organizations

Vendors