Pasture Legumes Identified


Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 130
Publication Date: June 2004
Order#: 04-057
Last Reviewed: October 2009
History: (Replaces OMAF Factsheet Pasture Legumes Identified, Order No. 88-078)
Written by: E. A. Clark - Department of Plant Agriculture/University of Guelph; J. Alex - formely Department of Environmental Biology/University of Guelph; S.E. Robinson - formerly OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Alfalfa
  3. Alsike Clover
  4. Birdsfoot Trefoil
  5. Black Medick
  6. Crown Vetch
  7. Red Clover
  8. Sweet Clover
  9. Tufted Vetch
  10. White Clover

Introduction

Most plant species sown for pastures belong to one of two plant groups; the legumes and the grasses. Legumes are plants with flowers like the sweet pea and produce their seeds in pods. Compared to grasses that have long slender leaves, legumes have compound leaves with three or more broad, rounded leaflets. Most legumes have tap roots that are able to obtain water from deeper in the soil than the roots of grasses. Legumes are highly valued because they are rich in protein and yield well without being fertilized with nitrogen. This is because legumes are able to form a mutually beneficial relationship with Rhizobia bacteria. In this association, the bacteria, which live in nodules or swellings on the legume roots, are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen and make it available to their host plant. Several legume species are used in Ontario. This Factsheet is a guide to identifying the common, the not so common and the wild legume species that can contribute to the productivity and feed value of pastures. Agronomic information for most of these species can be found in OMAFRA Publication 811, Agronomy Guide for Field Crops.


Alfalfa

Alfalfa

Stems

  • Slender, either solid or hollow
  • Grow to a height of 60–100 cm

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 3 leaflets that are 2–3 times longer than wide and serrated at the tips
  • Leaflets vary in shape from long and narrow to oval
  • Stalk of central leaflet distinctly longer than those of the 2 lateral leaflets

Flowers

  • Usually purple, or blue, sometimes yellow or white
    10–20 flowers in a cluster at the end of the flower stalk

Seedpods

  • Spiral or sickle shaped
  • Seed is kidney shaped
  • Fresh seed is yellow to greenish yellow

Roots

  • 4 types: tap root, branch root, rhizomatous or creeping

Distinguishing Features

  • Leafiness of the plant, leaf shape, and the serrations on the tips of the leaflets, and the stalk of the central leaflet longer than the other 2, prostrate growth habit.

Alsike Clover

Alsike CloverStems

  • Smooth and slender
  • Tend to be prostrate

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 3 stalkless leaflets
  • Leaflets are finely serrated all around or just on the lower half
  • Leaflets are deep green and hairless

Flowers

  • White to pinkish rose
  • Form a dense round head
  • Flowers are borne along the length of the stem, with the youngest flowers at the top

Seedpods

  • Very tiny (less than 1 mm long) and pear-shaped 1–2 seeds produced per pod
  • Seed colour ranges from light green to green-black

 

Alsike cloverRoots

  • A tap root not as deep and more branching than red clover

Distinguishing Features

  • Flowers borne along the length of the stem; stem and leaves hairless.

 

 

 

 


Birdsfoot Trefoil

Birdsfoot Trefoil Stems

  • Fine stems, 60–90 cm in length, often very branched
  • Vary from being strong and erect to weak and prostrate

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 5 leaflets, 2 of which are very close to the stem and separated from the other 3 by a definite stalk

Flowers

  • Bright yellow to orange-yellow
  • Borne in clusters of 2–8 at the end of the flower stalk

Seedpods

  • 2–4 cm long, round and slender
  • 5–6 pods are usually attached at the end of the flower stalk, looking like a bird’s foot
  • Pods turn from green to dark brown at maturity and normally contain 10–15 dark brown seeds

Roots

  • 1 deep tap root with many side-branching roots in the upper 30–60 cm of soil

Distinguishing Features

  • Compound leaf with 5 leaflets, the lower 2 leaflets right at the stem junction, and the clusters of bright yellow to reddish-orange flowers.

Black Medick

Black MedickStems

  • Slender, wiry and leafy
  • Are either long (up to 80 cm) and prostrate or much shorter and erect

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 3 small oval leaflets shallowly toothed at the tips
  • Covered with fine hair, at least on under surface
    Central leaflet has a stalk
  • Leaves dull green without any white markings

Flowers

  • Yellow
  • Small, headlike clusters 1 cm in diameter on long stalks

Seedpods

  • Black, kidney-shaped or twisted, 2–3 mm long. Prominently ridged

Roots

  • Very strong, thin tap root

Distinguishing Features

  • The leaves, and the small yellow flower clusters on stalks longer than the leaves.

Crown Vetch

Crown VetchStems

  • Coarse and hollow
  • Grow 30–150 cm long and are semi-reclining
  • Does not climb like a vine
  • Total vertical height is about 70 cm
  • Underground stems may also be produced

Leaves

  • Compound with 5–25 pairs of narrow to oblong or oval leaflets
  • Vetch-like but without any tendrils

Flowers

  • Whitish-pink to purplish pink
  • Borne in a cluster at the tip of a long stalk, with their arrangement resembling a crown

Seedpods

  • Long, slim, cylindrically shaped
  • Divided into 3–12 segments
  • Each segment contains 1 rod shaped, dark brown seed 3.5 mm long and 1 mm in diameter

Roots

  • A deep tap root with many side branching roots

Distinguishing Features

  • The crown shaped cluster of pinkish to purplish flowers and vetch-like leaves without tendrils.

Red Clover

Red Clover

Stems

  • Hairy and leafy
  • Grow upright to a height of 15–42 cm

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 3 stalkless, oblong leaflets
  • V-shaped white mark on leaflets almost always present although not always distinct
  • Leaflets hairy, especially on the under-surface and edges

Flowers

  • Rose purple to magenta
  • Form a dense head 2.5 cm in diameter

Seedpods

  • Very tiny (1 mm long) acorn shaped pods
  • Contain seed that are mitten shaped and vary in colour from yellow to deep purple

Roots

  • Weak tap root with many fibrous, side-branching roots

Distinguishing Features

  • Marking on leaf, the hairy stems and leaves, and the flowers in a dense cluster.

Note

  • Two types of red clover are used in Ontario: single cut and double cut. Single cut (also called mammoth) is taller and coarser than double cut red clover. It typically flowers later and produces a large first cut with limited aftermath. Double cut will typically regrow well enough for 2 cuts.

Sweet Clover

Sweet cloverStems

  • Very branched and spreading
  • Grow 150–200 cm in height

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 3 oblong leaflets that are serrated around the edges

Flowers

  • Yellow or white
  • Small and very numerous in long loose flower arrangements called racemes

Seedpods

  • Tiny, (less than 5 mm long) wrinkled and plum shaped
  • Pods turn brown, dark grey or white when mature and contain 1–2 seeds
  • Yellow seed is similar to alfalfa seed, but shorter and less kidney shaped

Roots

  • Deep, strong tap root

Distinguishing Features

  • Tall coarse appearance, leaflets roundish and with toothed edges, crushed stems and leaves have a distinctive sweet odour.

Note

Two types of sweet clover; yellow flowering and white flowering are used. The white flowering type is deeper rooting, taller and coarser than the yellow flowering sweet clovers.

 


Tufted Vetch

Tufted VetchStems

  • Long (40 cm–2 m) wiry stems that trail on the ground or twine around other plants

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 5–12 pairs of bristle-tipped leaflets and ending with 1, 2, or 3 tendrils

Flowers

  • Bluish-purple
  • 0 or more of the 1 cm long flowers are commonly crowded together on one side of a long bare stalk

Seedpods

  • Pea-like, 2–3 cm long, slightly flattened and light brown in colour
  • Seeds are round and are various colours: grey-green, brown black or flecked

Roots

  • Tap root with side branching roots, spreading underground rootstocks

Distinguishing Features

  • Compound leaves with 5–12 pairs of leaflets and branching tendrils, and the flowers clustered on one side of a long stalk, spreading underground rootstocks.

White Clover

White cloverStems

  • Smooth, solid stems that creep on the ground and have erect or upward-slanting branches

Leaves

  • Each leaf has 3 rounded, stalkless leaflets
  • Underside is shiny
  • Edges of the leaflets have a few shallow teeth, these being most noticeable halfway between the tip and base of the leaflet
  • Sometimes there is a V-shaped whitish mark on the upper surface of each leaflet

 

White cloverFlowers

  • Usually all white but sometimes tinged with pink
  • Form an almost spherical head

Seedpods

  • Very tiny (4 mm long) and pea-like
  • Contain 1 to 4 heart-shaped seeds that range in colour from yellow to orange-red or brown

Roots

  • A short tap root in the seeding year (it dies before or during the second year)
  • Shallow roots develop from the nodes of the creeping stems

Distinguishing Features

  • Creeping stem, shiny underside of leaf, 3 stalkless leaflets, sometimes a white mark on each leaflet and clusters of white flowers.

Note

There are 3 types of white clover (wild white, common white or white Dutch and Ladino) used in Ontario. They look the same, but differ in size. Wild white clover is the smallest, ranging in height from 5–17 cm. The intermediate, common white, grows to 25 cm, while Ladino can grow to 34 cm tall.


This Factsheet was originally authored E. Ann Clark, Department of Plant Agriculture; University of Guelph; J. Alex formely Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph; and S.E. Robinson, formerly OMAFRA, North Bay. This Factsheet was reviewed and by J. Kyle, OMAFRA and E.Ann Clark, University of Guelph.

 


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