Friday, June 19, 2015

More Fabaceae: Red Clover - Trifolium pratense

So this week's posts have accidentally ended up with a unifying theme: I've been posting a lot about introduced species in the Fabaceae (legume family) brought to North America as feed crops. Primarily, I suppose, because a lot of the species in this family are just coming into bloom now, so I have a lot of them queued up for posting.

Trifolium pratense inflorescence
Trifolium pratense (red clover) is native to Europe [1,2,3] and is now found in most states, provinces, and territories in North America (US range map here, Canada range map here). This plant was originally brought to North America by settlers as a forage crop (food for grazing livestock) [1,2]. It is also, like many Fabaceae, a nitrogen-fixing plant [1,2].

Trifolium pratense inflorescence
This plant can frequently be found outside of farms, especially in disturbed fields, roadsides, parks, and unmown grassy areas [3].

Trifolium pratense general view
Trifolium pratense is edible and often used to make tea (I make herbal teas with it myself, it is sweet and tasty) [2], but because it is estrogenic [1,2] should not be consumed excessively by anyone with estrogen-sensitive conditions e.g. breast cancer [2] and is known to cause various health problems in livestock when improperly managed [4]. It has been touted as a treatment for a number of ailments but at present there is insufficient or conflicting evidence for most of these claims [5].

One rather pretty part of the plant that people rarely notice is the leafy casing that forms at stem junctions, and which looks rather like stained glass:

Trifolium pratense

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