Plant Guide > Grasses > White Sweet Clover

White Sweet Clover


WHITE SWEET CLOVER (Melilotus alba Desr.)

Other English name: Bokhara Clover.

Botanical description:

Sweet Clover is biennial with a strong taproot and numerous leafy stems. The latter, which are generally much branched and spreading, reach a height of from two to five feet. When the plants are young they look like Alfalfa, but are readily recognized by their peculiar sweet odour. The leaves are similar to those of Alfalfa but not so numerous. When in bloom the plants are easily identified by their white flowers arranged in long, narrow and spike-like racemes.

The flowers are small and more simple in construction than those of Red Clover and Alfalfa; they are more open and consequently give easier access to pollengathering insects. The pod is brown when ripe and generally contains only one or two seeds. Like that of Trefoil it falls off without breaking.

The whole plant has a characteristic fragrance-hence the name Sweet Clover-especially noticeable when in bloom and when the stems and leaves are cured into hay.

Geographical distribution:

Sweet Clover is a native of the Old World where it occurs practically all over the temperate zone. It was probably introduced into America with the early settlers and is now spread all over the continent. It is common everywhere in Canada, especially in the eastern provinces.

Cultural conditions:

Sweet Clover is generally found in waste places, along roads and railways, on river banks and in cultivated fields. It grows readily on almost any soil and will do well where practically nothing else will flourish. This ability to thrive almost anywhere, combined with its faculty of reseeding itself abundantly, is apt to give it the character of a troublesome weed where it is not desired. It does well in almost any climate and will live under very adverse conditions.

Agricultural value:

When Sweet Clover is young it is succulent, but as soon as it flowers the stems get woody and lose their palatability. Its peculiar flavour is distasteful to stock, which will eat it only when nothing else is available. Milk and butter obtained from cows fed on green Sweet Clover have a peculiar taste disliked by most people. Furthermore, as the yield of hay is not high, Sweet Clover makes a poor forage plant. Its chief value is to enrich the soil and to improve its mechanical condition. Like other leguminous plants, the tubercles on its roots are filled with nitrogen-collecting bacteria. There seems to be conclusive evidence that these bacteria are identical with those of Alfalfa. At any rate, they act in exactly the same way and can therefore be used for the inoculation of Alfalfa fields. Six to eight pounds of seed are sufficient for an acre.

White Sweet Clover seed