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Clover/Birdsfoot Trefoil

Clover/Birdsfoot TrefoilPlant Description: Birdsfoot trefoil has a perennial root crown and stems that die back each winter. Characterized by compound leaves consisting of 3 clover-like leaflets at the tip separated by a short stem from 2 smaller leaflets at the base. Its flowers are yellow, clover like, and in groups of 2 to 6. They are arranged such that, when pods form, they resemble a bird's foot. Reproduction is by seeds and plants spread by modified stems (stolons) and rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Because roots arise from buds at the nodes of older stems, it is possible to propagate plants by stem cuttings. Also, new shoots arise from root crowns.

Clover/Birdsfoot Trefoil seedlingBirdsfoot trefoil produces a long taproot that may extent over 3 feet. Also, a fibrous mat appears near the soil surface as the result of formation of secondary roots, rhizomes (horizontal underground stems), and stolons. Many branched stems can emerge from a single root crown and may be either erect or prostrate and up to 3 feet long. The lower portion of each stem is round in cross section, while the upper portion is square. Stems may be smooth or hairy, and can become woody with age. Leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node) and compound with 5 leaflets. Clover/Birdsfoot Trefoil flower seedpotsLeaflets are generally oval and less than 1 inch long. At the top of each leaf are 3, clover-like leaflets separated by a short stem from 2 smaller leaflets attached directly to the stem at its base. Clover-like flowers are about 1/2 inch wide and bright yellow, although they may be streaked with red. Flowers form in groups of 2 to 6 at the end of a long stalk (peduncle) arising from an upper leaf axil. Flower clusters are shaped like flat-topped umbrellas (umbels).

Seeds germinate primarily in spring but also in fall. Flowers are produced from late June until frost. On average, 10 to 20 seeds form in each pod. Pods rupture when mature in such a manner that seeds are ejected. Birdsfoot trefoil is a valuable forage crop that will grow under many soil conditions including drought, flood, saline, acidic, and low fertility. It is planted along highway right-of-ways as a ground cover and in pastures to increase productivity.  It tends to escape cultivation becoming an undesirable weed. Frequent mowing (more than once every 3 weeks) at a height less than 2 inches is required to control birdsfoot trefoil. It can also be controlled by pre-emergence applications of herbicide or by applying selective herbicides to seedlings.