Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail

Clover Clues

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

When looking at any grassy area, it is easy to see a uniform swathe of green. But if we stop and peer, we find that the grasses never have any patch all to themselves. In places that are regularly walked on by people or animals, we will find some tougher specimens amongst the grass.

There is no plant that actually wants to be stomped on by a wellington or hoof, it damages the leaves, compacts the soil and kills off many plants. But there is a small group that have evolved to cope with this treatment; these plants have earned the label ‘trampling-tolerant’.

One of the most familiar of these forgiving specimens is clover. The four-leafed variety is famously rare, but sadly more likely an indication of herbicide use than good fortune. That sounds miserable; let’s say one four-leaf clover is lucky, but lots are a sign of agricultural chemicals.

Clover is a clue to activity and on lawns it forms a map we can study. In well-worn areas you will find that clover starts to displace the grass, creating a clover carpet. Slightly more elegant are the paths it marks. All lawns will have ‘desire lines’ running over them, these are the quickest and most popular routes taken – a back door to the bins or a kitchen to a greenhouse or chicken run. You will find these lines are marked by clover.

Clover doesn’t reveal every move of humans and animals, but it does paint our frequent habits into the grass.

White Clover dominates on a heavily used part of a grass lawn

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