Monday, March 16, 2015

Apple #705: Clover

St. Patricks' Day is right around the corner. Easter with all its candy is already here, if you believe the grocery story displays. (Just what does that word "Easter" mean anyway?)  Soon we'll be seeing daffodils and forsythia sprouting everywhere.  Before you know it, Spring Fever will have set in.

All right, I'll stop with the link-bombing.  The point is, I've been doing this here Daily Apple thing for so many years, I've already covered most of the obvious subjects.  So I thought it would be a good time to talk about something small, unassuming, often overlooked.  Like clover.

Clover, four-leaved, no less.
(Photo from McPeak's Assisted Living)

Finding a Four-Leaf Clover

  • What are the odds of finding a four-leaf clover?  On your first try: about 10,000 to 1.  
  • Keep trying, though, because apparently the pursuit is not as difficult as it's made out to be.  Some people report finding 5, 6, or 7 four-leaf clovers in a single clover-hunting session.
  • Scientific American estimates that one four-leaf clover should be present in every 1.2 square meters' worth of clover patch.  So if you've got a roughly 1-square-meter patch of clover, you'll probably find a 4-leaf one in it.
  • But 4-leaf clovers have apparently become ho-hum.  The real prize to find now is a 5-leaf clover. 

5-leaf clover. For reals.
(Photo by Annamaria Campbell, at Ann's Creative Photography)

  • You would think this would be even more difficult, but clover-hunters report finding multiple 5-leaved clovers in a single hunting session, too.
  • Clovers with 6, 7, and 8 leaves have also been found.  People have set records finding clovers with as many as 21 and 56 leaves. 

21-leaf clover, bred & grown & found in Japan by a farmer named Shigeo Obara.  I don't know if it counts as a "find" if you bred it & grew it yourself.
(Photo from neatorama)

56-leaf clover, bred & grown & found by that same farmer in Japan, Shigeo Obara.
(Photo from National Geographic)

  • This cloverleaf bounty probably has to do with the fact that plant cultivators have figured out how to breed clover for the recessive gene that produces multi-leaved clovers.
  • Some tips for looking for the multi-leaf clovers: don't go scrutinizing each one with a magnifying glass.  Instead, find a patch of clover, preferably white clover, and cast your gaze slowly over the patch, maybe ruffling the patch gently with your hand, while you look for the shape of 4 leaves -- or 5, or anyway an odd shape that stands out from the rest.  
  • Once you've found one, keep looking in that same patch of clover because you'll probably find another one nearby.  It'll have more brothers & sisters around somewhere.

White clover, identifiable by the presence of the white crescents on the leaves. . . 
(Photo from Walter

. . . and the little white ball-shaped flowers, sometimes tinged with pink, that stand up high above the leaves
(Photo from

  • Speaking of cloverleaf, anybody remember the Cloverleaf in Ann Arbor, before it was downtown, when it used to be out by that Kroger?  Ah, the old days.

The Cloverleaf today.  Look, it's all downtown and cafe-like and everything. Right on Liberty Street.
(Photo from visitypsinow. Which is kind of funny. Because this place is in Ann Arbor.)

Is it a Weed or Is it a Crop?

  • Many home gardeners think of clover as a weed.  It does tend to spread, so people often get frustrated with this and rip it out.  And keep ripping it out -- it is rather persistent.
  • Some farmers, however, have a different opinion.
  • All those stories about cattle and bunnies loving to graze in the clover are apparently accurate.  According to the USDA, clover--especially white clover--is "highly palatable" and "nutritious" for a wide variety of grazing livestock.
  • You do have to be careful to keep the cattle from standing in the clover all day.  Because they'll keep eating it and eating it, and then they'll get the bloat.
  • As a plant for plant's sake, clover is a legume.  Its roots fix nitrogen in the soil, so it helps revitalize the soil.  Some farmers even call it a "living mulch," which means just by planting it and letting it grow, it will improve the soil it lives in.
  • Some farmers use it as cover in the space between crop rows.  For example, blueberry farmers in Michigan are discovering the benefits of planting white clover between the rows of blueberry bushes.  It doesn't compete with the berry bushes for sunlight, it out-competes other weeds, and it doesn't take much labor to mow it or seed it, since it often re-seeds itself.
  • Clover is also traffic-resistant.  This means you can walk on it, and you won't kill it.  It won't survive a lot of heavy livestock grazing, or a ton of foot traffic all the time, but it's also not so sensitive you have to avoid walking on it.
  • Bees love clover.  If you've got clover planted among your other crops that you want the bees to visit, the clover will act like a "POLLEN HERE" sign to the bees, and while they're there, they'll stop by your other plants and pollinate those too.

This bee is thinking, yum yum yum, clover
(Photo from Open Source Ecology)

This bunny says, "What? Nobody here is eating clover.  I don't know what you're talking about."
(Photo by HDR Cafe on Flickr, but found on Pinterest)

This duck likes clover, too.
(Photo from Open Source Ecology)

  • So you might see why the phrase "we're in clover" means we've got it pretty good.

Clover in Song

  • Of course, you can't talk about clover without this.  Please to hit play.

  • or the 80s version, if that's your fancy

The Minitab Blog, The Odds of Finding a Four-Leaf Clover [on your first try], March 16, 2012
Daily Telegraph, What are the odds? Woman finds 21 four-leaf clovers in her front yard, August 11, 2014
WikiHow, How to Find a Four Leaf Clover
Smithsonian Magazine, How to Find a Four Leaf Clover, March 17, 2014
USDA Plant Fact Sheet, White Clover
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, White Clover

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