N.L. Taylor, Department of Agronomy and J.N.N. Campbell
Two clovers native to Kentucky, buffalo
clover (Trifolium reflexum) and running buffalo clover( T. stoloniferum)
recently have been re-discovered. These clovers were common in Kentucky
until about 1850. Their names are derived from the fact that they occurred
mostly along buffalo trails through woods. Historical records indicate
that buffalo clover occurred on drier and less fertile soils of the former
Big Barren Region and the Shawnee Hills, whereas running buffalo clover
was widespread on moist, fertile soils in the Bluegrass Region. Both arc
now extremely rare in Kentucky. At present buffalo clover has been found
in Mammoth Cave National Park, and running buffalo clover in Boone, Bourbon
and Fayette Counties. Running buffalo clover has been designated as a federally
This annual sometimes biennial species
with purple-red flowers is upright in growth and leafmarked like red clover
(see diagram ). Heads reflex in seed and are borne on branching stems that
bear long-pointed leaves. Blooms of buffalo clover are reddish-purple rather
than pink like red clover.
Running Buffalo Clover:
This perennial low-growing, species
has white flowers that creep along the ground like white clover. It differs
from white clover in that heads are borne on stems with leaves and branches.
White clover is prostrate with naked stems arising directly from creeping
stems whereas running buffalo clover has heads arising from a pair of aerial
leaves. The leaflets also are more rounded and are usually larger than
white clover in luxuriant growth. Leaflets are not v marked.
Plants may occur along roads or paths
bordered by woods, sometimes in disturbed areas. They arc not likely to
be found in pastures competing with introduced grasses like tall fescue
or orchardgrass. It may survive best in drier, limestone-based soils, but
not in river bottoms. Associated trees include oak, hickory and dogwood.
Running buffalo clover
Running buffalo clover has been found
in upland terraces of the Ohio River. It does not appear to tolerate heavy
shading or heat. It may also be located in borders or paths of woods, and
steep, weedy ravines and may not survive intensive mowing or other cultivation.
Associated trees include walnut, cherry, ash and tulip poplar. No records
occur of the two clovers growing together. Running buffalo clover is most
likely to be confused with white clover and alsike clover but may be distinguished
by characteristics shown on the diagram.
Neither of these clovers is likely
to become a major forage crop mainly because the habitat and vegetation
of early Kentucky no longer widely exists. However, these species may contribute
valuable genes, via interspecific hybridization, to our major forage species,
like white, red and alsike clover.
Current Extent in Kentucky
As previously noted, both these native
clovers arc near extinction in Kentucky. Knowledge and information about
any occurrences of these species is very valuable to scientists trying
to preserve Kentucky's native plants.
If you find suspect plants, do not
disturb them in their native habitat since they are nearly extinct. Instead,
photograph them to point out the habitat and descriptive details. Get permission
to examine plants on private property. Notify one of the authors of details
of the location if .you find plants. Your cooperation in saving these species
from extinction is appreciated.