The Grass Guide: Red Clover

Although given the name red clover, the flowering buds have a purple color.

Photo: iStock

Name: Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Life cycle: Short-lived cool-season perennial or biennial
Native to: Southeastern Europe and Turkey
Uses: Pasture and hay
Identification: Trifoliate leaves with a white “V” watermark, hairy stems, purple flowers

Red clover pairs well with cool-season grazing grasses in pastures used for rotational grazing. Unlike white clover, red clover cannot tolerate close grazing or poor drainage; however, it is more tolerant of shade. Red clover provides excellent forage quality when grazed or harvested before the flower blooms.

When infected with black patch, red clover can cause excessive drooling in horses (slobbers). Although this condition is a nuisance, it is otherwise harmless.

Because it is high-yielding, red clover is commonly mixed with grasses in hay fields. Red clover turns brown even when dried properly and, therefore, red clover hay will not appear green like other good-quality hays. Forage quality testing will often show that this “brown” hay is actually high-quality.

Information provided by AnnMarie Kadnar, graduate student; Krista Lea, MS, coordinator of the University of Kentucky’s (UK) Horse Pasture Evaluation Program; and Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist. All three are part of UK’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

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