White clover, also known as Dutch Clover, is a common, herbaceous perennial from the bean family. It can be found mostly on relatively dry grasslands, pastures and meadows, especially where clay soils occur. The genus name, Trifolium, derives from the Latin tres, "three", and folium, "leaf", so called from the characteristic form of the leaf, which almost always has three leaflets (trifoliolate), hence the popular name "trefoil". The species name, repens, comes from the Latin word for "creeping".
It can become a dominant and troublesome species in gardens, due to its multi-branched creeping stems and persistent root-stocks, which are challenging to control and may last for many years. Despite being considered as a weed by many, white clover plays a valuable role, especially for pollinating insects and bee-keepers. An abundant nectar of the plant is contained at the bottom of the deep tube formed by the petals. Usually only long-tongued insects, such as bees, are able to reach it. White clover is one of the first flowers to produce 'mainflow' nectar for bees after the dandelion and sycamore supplies run out. Apparently, one hectar of white clover can produce up to 100kg of honey. Once the flowers are pollinated, they fold down over the fruits (young pods) and turn brown. Occasionally, one flower is left standing upright and is known as the 'old maid'.
In sustainable agriculture white clover can enhance summer grazing productivity, and improve soil structure. Some varieties of white clover produce a substantial amount of acid, contained in leaves, which if consumed in large quantities, can cause poisoning in animals. Usually, the unpleasant taste deters the animals from consumption if other food is available. For this reason, plant genetics have produced glycoside-free strains.
White clover has been grown as a fodder plant since the 17th century and is the most important pasture legume in Britain. In 'An Essay on the Grasses and other Native Plants most deserving of Culture in Scotland, for Hay or Pasture' (1807), W.Singers reflects:
'It (white clover) flowers chiefly in June or July, and is then the delight of sheep, cattle and horses. The flower abounds with the most delicate honey, and is resorted to by hive-bees, while the large field bees feed on the coarser honey of the broad red clover' .
White clover is an important source of winter food for wildfowl. Besides making an excellent forage crop for livestock its leaves and flowers, high in proteins, are a valuable survival food. The fresh plants have been used for centuries as additives to salads and meals. Unless boiled, they are not easy for humans to digest raw. Dried white clover flowers may also be smoked as a herbal alternative to tobacco.
White clover which produce leaves with four instead of the usual three leaflets, have long been considered to be 'lucky'.
'Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland' - W.Milliken & S.Bridgewater, 2013
' The Gaelic Names of Plants' - J.Cameron, 2019
'Vickery's Folk Flora' - R. Vickery, 2019
'Scottish Plant Lore' - G. J. Kenicer, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2020
'The Orkney Book of Wildflowers' - T. Dean, illustrated by A. Bignall, 2019
'Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain', 1995