Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 1, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

Around my friends' house the clovers are something to see. I don't know why so many species should grow there so lustily. My friend Fred says nothing was done to get clover there. They just cleared a spot for the house and when the house was put up the clovers came on their own.

There's White Clover, TRIFOLIUM REPENS, with white globes of flowers 1¼ inch wide atop foot-long, arcing peduncles, the stems snaking through the grass sprouting 2½-inch broad, trifoliate leaves on wiry petioles 8 inches long. Each of the three leaflets is ornamented with a silvery V, the V's open top directed inward, toward the petiole. You can see White Clover and how that silvery V looks at www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/images/trifolium-repens.jpg

Maybe the most common species is Small-head Clover, TRIFOLIUM MICROCEPHALUM, with a rambling body like White Clover but half the size, plus their leaflets lack the silvery V. This clover's flowering heads are so tiny, only about half an inch across, that you hesitate to call it a clover. You can see it at http://ghs.gresham.k12.or.us/science/ps/nature/gorge/5petal/pea/smallhead.htm

There's also Crimson Clover, TRIFOLIUM INCARNATUM, whose flowers arranged in oblong, pedunculate, spicate heads ignite as searing red flames in placid pools of emerald-green leaves. See this at www.missouriplants.com/Redalt/Trifolium_incarnatum_page.html

Then there's the strangest-looking clover I've ever seen, one I couldn't believe was a clover until I'd worked on it a few days. Its pink flowers are set as flat clusters with a wheel-like circle of connected bracts subtending them, and the leaflets are too slender, one thinks, for a clover. It's White-tipped Clover, TRIFOLIUM VARIEGATUM, and I put a picture of it at www.backyardnature.net/sierras/tri-vari.jpg. Then add to that casual groupings of Yellow Trefoil, MEDICAGO LUPULINA, with pea-sized, cloverlike heads (http://hortiplex.gardenweb.com/plants/jour/p/58/gw1025358/168464992890272.jpeg) and finally there's Spring Vetch, VICIA SATIVA, with penny-size, purplish pink blossoms and feathery leaves with curling tendrils at their tips. See it at www.coepark.org/wildflowers/purple/vicia-sativa.html

All these clovers, the trefoil and the vetch are members of the Bean Family, all generously fixing atmospheric nitrogen so other plants can use it. What a lush, friendly, charming community of house- side neighbors these species are.

My friend Fred travels in a wheelchair. There's a sidewalk encircling the house where he exercises and as he wheels himself along I see him looking deep into the rankness of his leguminaceous friends, drinking in the White Clover's robustness, the Crimson Clover's shocking vivaciousness, the yellow Trefoil's modest but intense detonations of yellow, and I do believe that no one on Earth admires and appreciates what he sees more than Fred.