[Clovers: The Genus Trifolium in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon and Washington]

Red Clover, Purple Clover

Trifolium pratense

Synonyms: Trifolium pratense var. frigidum, Trifolium pratense var. sativum

Red Clover, Purple Clover: Trifolium pratense


Red clover is a short-lived perennial weed with several erect stems arising from 30-100 cm high from a thick taproot. The stems and leaves are generally covered with some soft hairs. The leaves are alternately arranged along the stems and are ternately compound. The stipules are 1-3 cm long, ovate-lanceolate in shape and conspicuously green-veined. The leaflets measure 2-6 cm and are lanceolate to oblong-obovate in shape with some minute teeth that point towards the leaf tip. The upper surface of the leaflet often has a light central blotch.

The flower heads are terminal and globose to conical in shape. They are about 2.5-3.5 cm wided and consist of 50-200 flowers which are spreading to erect. The flower head is either sessile or on a peduncle shorter than the subtending leaf. Although it at first appears to be subtended by an involucral bract, these are really the stipules of the subending leaf. The calyx is about 1/2-2/3 the length of the corolla with the 2 upper teeth about equal to the calyx tube while the lower trio of teeth are about twice the length of the calyx tube. The outer surface of the calyx is covered with some spreading hairs. The corolla is pink to reddish and measures 13-20 mm long.


A weedy species, red clover may be found in disturbed soils along roadsides, yards, gardens, waste areas and fallow fields.


A native of Europe, red clover has been widely cultivated across North America (it's a good winter cover crop) and has escaped to become established over much of the western United States and Canada.

In the Columbia River Gorge, it may be found between the elevations of 100'-2100' from near the mouth of the Sandy River eastward to near The Dalles, OR.

Paul Slichter