Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum L.)

Common Name:

Alsike Clover

Scientific Name:

Trifolium hybridum L.

Synonym:

Trifolium elegans Savi, Trifolium hybridum L. ssp. elegans (Savi) Aschers. & Graebn., Trifolium hybridum L. var. elegans (Savi) Boiss., Trifolium hybridum L. var. pratense Rabenh.

Family:

Fabaceae

Tribe:

Origin:

Originated in Sweden and grown commercially in temperate Europe for centuries. It was introduced into England and Scotland around 1832.

Time of introduction:

Introduced to US in 1839.

Description:

Alsike clover may have originated in northern Europe but it was named after a Swedish village where it was noticed in the 1700's. Alsike clover is an important forage for difficult areas. It is able to tolerate cold temperatures and flooding and a wider range of pH than most other legumes. It was once thought to be a hybrid of white and red clovers since it has some traits of each, but it is not a hybrid. It is used in pasture mixtures with red clover and grasses because it is a cheap seed and because of it's adaptability to many soil conditions.

Life cycle (annual/biennial/perennial):

Short-lived perennial.

Growth habit & Regrowth type:

Semi-erect growth habit.

Invasive potential:

Low.

Persistence:

Medium; short-lived perennial.

Identification:

Image Gallery: The OSU Forage Information System contains an Image Gallery that includes Alsike Clover photographs and drawings useful in identification. The URL for the gallery is: http://forages.oregonstate.edu/main.php?PageID=241

The direct URL for Alsike Clover is: http://forages.oregonstate.edu/main.php?PageID=178&SpecID=39

Inflorescence: The alsike clover umbel inflorescence (seedhead) is similar to that of white clover, but alsike's is more pinkish-white. The inflorescences do not terminate the stem so older inflorescences are not supported or "held" by leaves. When the inflorescence matures, it shrivels and bends down. Alsike inflorescence image.

Flower: Flowers are pink or white. Alsike flower image.

Seed: Seeds are 1 mm in length, heart-shaped (obcordate), greenish-brown with tinges of red. They age to a darker brown. The seed is small, like white clover, but less reddish. Alsike seed image.

Stem: Mature alsike clover plants are erect but look semi-prostrate because the inflorescences do not terminate the stems. The plants usually grow 1-3 feet (.3-1 m) in length from the crown but can grow to 5 feet (1.5 m). The stems, though tall, are weak. Alsike clover is glabrous (hairless) on the stems and leaves. Alsike stem image.

Leaf: As a true clover, leaves have three leaflets with equal length petiolules (leaflets are equal distance from the petiole). They are glabrous, dull green in color, and serrated (jagged) at the edges. Alsike clover leaves have prominent veins that look like they extend beyond the edge (margin) of the leaflet. Alsike leaf image.

Stipules: The nodes, where the leaf petiole joins the stem, have distinctive, sharply pointed stipules. They are continuously tapering with greenish veins and long points. Alsike stipule image.

Root: Alsike clover has fibrous roots and a taproot that penetrates deep into the subsoil. These roots then survive the frost, making it through to grow a new plant in the following spring. The roots have many branches that are noncreeping.

Physiology and growth period:

Cool season (C3) perennial legume; growth initiates at 46 F (8 C), stops at 89 F (32 C). Optimum germination temperature is 68 F (20 C).

Reproduction:

Alsike clover is a self-incompatible, cross-pollinated species.

Quality/anti-quality factors:

Quality
Alsike clover is one of the best legumes for hay production in the high-altitude irrigated areas of the western US. It is useful because it grows well in places that are too wet, infertile, or acid for red clover or alfalfa, while maintaining the same quality. Because the leaves and stems of alsike clover are glabrous, the hay is less dusty than that of red clover.

Anti-Quality
The bloat hazard is similar to that of red clover or alfalfa.

Photographs/drawings:

Adaptation:

Suitability zones:

Alsike clover is grown in the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes region of the upper Midwest. It has become an important forage legume in areas suited to clover-timothy production.

Map:

Tolerances:

Alsike clover is well adapted to wet, heavy soils and produces well in areas not suitable for red clover. It is tolerant of cold and frost heaving, and has excellent winterhardiness. Damage from insects and diseases and depletion of root carbohydrates are uncommon.

Quantitiative Table:

July
Max Temp (C)
Jan
Min Temp (C)
Annual
Precip (mm)
Soil pH Soil Drainage
(categories)
Soil Salinity
(mmhos/cm)
Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High
Well Adapted 20 29 -25 -9 660 1000 6.0 7.5 MWD SPD 0 2
Moderate 18 30 -25 -7 640 1050 5.5 8.0 SPD WD 0 3
Marginal 16 32 -25 -5 620 1100 5.0 8.5 PD WD 0 4
1. For the High values for January Minimum temperature and Annual Precipitation: "9999 is entered to indicate no limit to the high values for this tolerance category."
2. For Soil Drainage categories, " Abbreviations are used for Soil Drainage categories: VPD (very poorly drained), PD (poorly drained), SPD (somewhat poorly drained), MWD (moderately well drained), WD (well drained), SED (somewhat excessively drained), ED (excessively drained)."

Climate: Alsike clover is well-adapted to the cool-moist climate of northern Europe and to similar areas in the USA and Canada.

Soils: Alsike clover is well adapted to wet, heavy soils and is tolerant of 10 to 20 days of flooding. It produces well on soils that are either too cold and wet or too acid or alkaline for red clover. It is easily established where there is minimal land preparation, but must be seeded shallowly.

Grazing Management: Alsike clover is quite tolerant of grazing. A rotational system where alsike is grazed to height of 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm)following a regrowth period of 4 weeks will result in a persistent stand of good quality forage. Including timothy with plantings of alsike for a hay crop is recommended because the clover has a tendency to lodge. Alsike clover produces only one crop of hay each season.

Turf Management: Not used as a turf species.

Pests: Diseases: Alsike clover is considered resistant to both northern and southern anthracnose, but is still susceptible to many of they same diseases and insects that damage red clover, including bacterial wilt and fusarium root rot.

Pests: Insects: Alsike is susceptible to many of the same insects as red clover, but is more tolerant to attacks of clover root borer, making it more successful in many areas where red clover has failed.

Pests: Nematodes: Definitive information on the susceptibility of alsike clover to nematodes is lacking. In Norway, however, alsike clover was reported resistant to the red clover stem nematode (Ditylenchus dispsaci (Kuhn) Filipjev) and has been recommended for seeding in soils heavily infested with that organism.

Cultivars:

Varieties of alsike clover grown are either of a diploid (2n = 16) or tetraploid (2n = 32) type. The common type grown is diploid. Tetraploids, with double the number of chromosomes, are taller, have larger leaves and flowers, and are later maturing than the diploids. In some areas, the forage yields of tetraploids are higher than those of diploids.

Vendors:

Vendors will not be part of the "beneficial species white papers."

See the Forage Information System variety database for a listing of vendors.

Establishment:

Alsike clover is most often established in the early spring when soil moisture conditions are most favorable. In areas where irrigation is available, late summer seedings are also successful. Seed may be broadcast and covered by a harrow or drilled 1/2 inch (1 cm) deep into a well-prepared seedbed. When alsike is used in renovating pastures, the existing sod should be clipped or closely grazed, disked, fertilized, and seeded in early spring or late fall. As with all legumes, alsike clover should be inoculated with the proper Rhizobium species (R. leguminosarun bv. trifolii) immediately before seeding.

Seeding rate:

Alsike clover is always seeded with agrass, or can be overseeded into grass in the spring. For conventional plantings, spring and fall seedings will work. Alsike seed should always be inoculated due to the infrequent use of the species. Plant alsike at 2-4 pounds per acre (2.2-4.5 kg/ha).

Seeding depth:

Plant alsike at a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch (0.5-1.0 cm).

Fertilization and liming:

Establishment benefits from a supply of readily-available, water-soluble P. Replenishment of P and especially K is required following removal of hay or seed crops. Although adapted to low fertility, alsike clover growth responds favorably to improved soil pH and fertility. Pre-plant fertilize according to soil test and local extension service recommendations.

When using alsike clover in a mixture with other grasses, fertilization should be based upon the grasses involved since they are the "meat and potatoes" of the mix. However, high rates of nitrogen fertilizer will damage the alsike component.

Uses:

Alsike clover is a short-lived legume (3 years average) that is most useful in short-rotation pastures or in hay mixtures on wetlands. It can be used in combination with grasses for pasture or hay in areas that have high precipitation or are poorly drained.

Seed crop:

Although alsike seed can be produced in many areas, Idaho provides optimum conditions. The honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) is the most important pollinator. Two to three colonies of honeybees/ha give adequate pollination in large fields and seed sets up to 82% and seed yields up to 375 lbs/acre (420 kg/ha) have been obtained under ideal conditions. Seed rates also significatly influenced seed yield, with 2-4 lbs/acre (2.2-4.5 kg/ha) rates producing the highest yields.

Forage:

Hay

In areas with good soil moisture, alsike clover yields well, and generally will thrive where other legumes fail. Like red clover, it is high in moisture content, and therefore, is difficult to cure in the field; however, it retains its green color somewhat better. Alsike clover is seldom grown alone, but it produces good yields in mixtures with grasses such as timothy, and since the grass holds the clover more upright, harvesting is easier. Normally, only one cutting can be harvested for hay each season.

Pasture

Regrowth after hay cutting is quite good and is similar to that of single-cut red clover. Alsike clover is very palatable to cattle. Proper fall use will not deplete root carbohydrates or affect winterhardiness.

Alsike clover is satisfactory in a pasture mixture, although its short life limits its usefulness to the first few years of production. It is somewhat difficult to control the proportion of alsike clover in a mixture, since this legume tends to dominate the stand for the first one or two years, and then it decreases rapidly.

Erosion Control/Conservation:

Alsike clover can be useful for stabilizing disturbed and eroding land, including roadsides and mine spoils.

Wildlife habitat and feed:

Mixed clover-grass pastures provide significant wildlife benefits.

Turf:

Not used as a turf species.

Economic value:

Seed:

For the ___million pounds (____kg) of alsike clover seed produced each year, the farm-gate seed value is approximately $____ wholesale value is $____ and retail value is $_____.

Forage:

Approximately ___ million acres (____ million hectares) of pastureland contain alsike clover as at least 10% of the mixture of species. If this pasture averages ___pounds (___ kg) of dry matter with a hay replacement value of $___ per ton, this would be equivalent to $___ per acre. If 10% of that $____ was attributed to alsike clover, that would be $____ per acre or $___ in value.

Soil and water conservation:

"Green accounting" is difficult. Reductions in soil loss and improvement of water quality could be attributed in part to the percentage of alsike clover in the mixture of species used for erosion control.

Turf:

Not used as a turf species.

References:

  1. Baldridge, D.E., R.L. Ditterline, L.K. Holzworth, J.D. Scheetz, J.R. Sims, S. Smoliak, G.L. Tibke, and L.E. Wiesner. Alsike Clover (From Montana Interagency Plant Materials Handbook). Montanta State University Extension Service. Bozeman, MT. Available at http://animalrangeextension.montana.edu/Articles/Forage/Species/Legumes/Alsikeclover.htm (verified 14 July 2004).
  2. Barnes, R.F., D.A. Miller, and C.J. Nelson. 1995. Forages Volume 1: An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture. Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa. 16:206-215.
  3. Barnes, R.F., M.E. Heath, and D.S. Metcalfe. 1973. Forages: The Science of Grasslands Agriculture, Third Edition. 14:157-158.
  4. Bledsoe, L., K. Hendrix, B. Johnson, K. Johnson, T. Johnson, G. Nice, G. Shaner, and G. Willoughby. 2004. Forage Field Guide. Purdue University Extension. West Lafayette, IN.
  5. Cropper, J. 1997. National Range and Pasture Handbook. USDA NRCS. Fort Worth, TX.
  6. Frame, J. 2004. Trifolium hybridum L. FAO Grassland Index [Online]. Available at http://www.fao.org/ag/AGP/AGPC/doc/Gbase/DATA/pf000348.htm (verified 14 July 2004).
  7. Townsend, C.E. 1985. Clover Science and Technology. Miscellaneous Perennial Clovers. American Society of Agronomy, Inc. Madison, WI. 26:563-578.
  8. USDA NRCS: Plant Fact Sheet. 2002. Alsike Clover. Available at http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_trhy.pdf (verified 14 July 2004).
  9. USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 [Online]. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Available at http://plants.usda.gov/cgi_bin/plant_profile.cgi?symbol=TRHY (verified 14 July 2004).

Authors:

David B. Hannaway and Christina Larson, Oregon State University

Document creation:

16 June 2004

Last update:

13 August 2004

Reviewers:

Ray Ditterline, Montana State University
Keith Johnson, Purdue University

Review date: