National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 6/Our State Flowers/The Red Clover

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Our State Flowers[edit]

The Red Clover (Trifolium pratense L.)[edit]


Trifolium pratense L.

Member of the Pulse family, with the wild sensitive plant, the partridge pea, the wild peanut, the vetches, the tick trefoil, and the blue lupine as its cousins, the red clover, which the legislature of the Green Mountain State has decreed shall be accorded the honor of standing at the head of the Vermont floral procession, finds itself at home in all temperate America.

The clover is an extraordinary seed-bearer. Darwin counted those of a large number of heads and found an average of 27 seeds per blossom. But when he kept the insects away not a single seed was set.

The clover blossom is preëminently the bumblebee's flower. When Australia first undertook to add this legume to her list of forage crops, as fine-looking fields of clover as one could imagine appeared in due time. But somehow the heads did not set seed and it seemed that failure was to follow the experiment. On looking around for a possible cause of this failure, it was found that the clover's best friend, the bumblebee, had not been imported along with the seed. As soon as this faithful servant was brought in and given time to establish itself, there were lively, hopeful days in the antipodean clover fields and no more failures of the crop to provide for future sowings.

The butterfly, too, long of tongue, can sip the nectar of these blossoms; but the light-weight insects with short tongues need not apply. The clover hides its sweets beneath a reddish lock that can be opened only by long tongues or heavy weights.

The child who has not plucked the tiny florets of the clover blossom and tasted their nectar is to be placed in the same category as the girl who has not taken a daisy and plucked the petals to the tune of “He loves me, he loves me not,” for neither has known the simple joys of the field.

When James Whitcomb Riley asked what the lily and all the rest of the flowers were to a man who in babyhood knew the sweet clover blossom, it was not that he loved the lily less, but that he loved the clover more.

Who that has seen a herd of fine cows, sleek and fat and trim, in a field of red clover fails to understand the force of the phrase “Living in clover” as a description of worldly affluence? But even the cows have no advantage of the bumblebee and the butterfly when it comes to the joy the clover field gives, for neither ox-eye daisies, black-eyed susans, goldenrods, nor iron-weeds can afford such rich pastures for these insects as the well-cultivated meadows of clover offer them.

For ages the clover has figured in the mysticism of the Caucasian races. The four-leaved clover is regarded as a harbinger of good luck when one finds it growing, although it is probably more an evidence of the finder's powers of observation and, therefore, of ability to get on in the world. In Europe the peasants declare that a dream about clover foretells a happy marriage, long life, and prosperity. There is another superstition to the effect that if one carries a four-leaved clover at Christmas time it will bring the ability to see witches and sprites. Still another fancy is expressed in the old couplet to the effect that finding an even ash leaf or a four-leaved clover is sure to bring a sight of the finder's sweetheart before the day is over.

Clover is thought by the herb doctor to have some medicinal properties. For instance, it is claimed that a syrup made from its blossoms is a cure for whooping-cough; and many a country child knows the joy of red clover tea at impromptu parties.

The clover is not a native American plant. It was brought here from Europe, where it is widely cultivated; and, again, it is only a settler in Europe, for it originally migrated there, like so many other plants of economic value, from Asia. However, it has a right to be called a blue-stocking among our flowers, for it is one of those favored individuals of the plant world that enrich the soil as they grow. Man has been long ages learning how to extract nitrogen, the most expensive of all fertilizing elements, from the air; but the clover learned that secret untold centuries ago, and instead of levying heavy tribute on the nitrogen supply of the ground, it draws its supplies from the air, uses what it can, and presents the remainder to the land with its compliments.

It joins the cow-pea, the soy-bean, the locust tree, and other legumes in being a great supporter of soil fertility. Compare the sod under the next locust tree you see with that under an oak, and you will realize why the clover and its cousins are allies of the progressive farmer.

Source: —, ed. (June 1917), “Our State Flowers: The Floral Emblems Chosen by the Commonwealths”, The National Geographic Magazine 31(6): 517. (Illustration from page 516.)