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Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum)

Plant Species
From Montana Interagency Plant Materials Handbook *
 By
S. Smoliak, R.L. Ditterline, J.D. Scheetz, L.K. Holzworth, J.R. Sims, L.E. Wiesner, D.E. Baldridge, and G.L. Tibke

Alsike clover was cultivated in Sweden as early as 1750 and was introduced into North America in about 1834. It became an important legume in the clover-timothy growth areas. It derives its name from the Alsike parish of Sweden.

Varieties of alsike clover grown are either of a diploid (2n = 16) or tetraploid (2n = 32) type. The common type grown is diploid. Tetraploids, with double the number of chromosomes, are taller, have larger leaves and flowers and are later maturing than the diploids. In some areas, the forage yields of tetraploids are higher than those of diploids.

Description

Alsike clover is a short-lived perennial, but it is often used as a biennial. Tillers grow profusely from the crown with stems at least as long as those of red clover, but more slender and prostrate. Stems and leaves are smooth. The pink or white flower heads are somewhat smaller than red clover heads. Alsike clover continues to bloom throughout the season. The stem bears flowers along its entire length, the oldest below and the youngest at the top of the stem. This characteristic is important not only from the standpoint of seed production, but also in making alsike clover suitable for hay over a longer period than red clover.

The root system penetrates deeply into the subsoil. The roots have many branches but are noncreeping. Root pieces that survive frost heaving can produce new plants.

Adaptation

This cool-season crop is adapted to low-lying, moist areas. It will tolerate soils that are completely waterlogged and withstands spring flooding up to six weeks. It is also well suited to acidic, organic soils. Alsike clover tolerates more alkalinity than most other clovers. It is easily established where there is minimal land preparation, but must be seeded shallowly. Of our legumes, it is the most tolerant of cold and frost heaving. Damage from insects and diseases and depletion of root carbo-hydrates are uncommon, so that it has excellent winterhardiness.

Limitations

Alsike clover is intolerant of drought and high temperatures. It will not survive on land that floods in spring, but dries up in the heat of summer. Salinity tolerance is also low.

Shade tolerance is poor which makes it less useful for mixtures with tall growing grasses such as reed canarygrass.

Use for Hay

In the moister areas of Montana, alsike clover yields well, and generally will thrive where other legumes fail. Like red clover, it is high in moisture content, and therefore, is difficult to cure in the field; however, it retains its green color somewhat better. Alsike clover is seldom grown alone, but it produces good yields in mixtures with grasses such as timothy, and since the grass holds the clover more upright, harvesting is easier. Normally, only one cutting can be harvested for hay each season.

Use for Pasture

Regrowth after hay cutting is quite good and is similar to that of single-cut red clover. Alsike clover is very palatable to cattle. Proper fall use will not deplete root carbohydrates or affect winterhardiness.

Alsike clover is satisfactory in a pasture mixture, although its short life limits its usefulness to the first few years of production. It is somewhat difficult to control the proportion of alsike clover in a mixture, since this legume tends to dominate the stand for the first one or two years, and then it decreases rapidly.

The bloat hazard is similar to that of red clover or alfalfa.

* The Montana Interagency Plant Materials Handbook (EB69) is no longer in print, but is available for viewing in
Montana County Extension Service and National Resource Conservation Service Offices.