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Genus Trifolium Family Fabaceae
Subfamily Faboideae

Description: Annual or perennial herbs with erect to procumbent stems.

Leaves either palmately 3-foliolate, or sometimes pinnately 3- or rarely to 9-foliolate; stipules partly united and fused to petioles, often sheathing.

Inflorescences often head-like, spicate or umbellate, usually many-flowered; bracts small or absent; bracteoles absent. Calyx tubular or campanulate, with 5 equal to unequal teeth. Corolla often persistent in pod; keel shorter than wings. Stamens diadelphous; all filaments, or 5 of them, dilated at apex; anthers uniform.

Pod usually indehiscent, ovoid to linear; seeds usually 1 or 2 (rarely 4–9), without a conspicuous aril.


Photo © ANBG

Distribution and occurrence: World: 238 species, Eurasia, Africa, North & South America, chiefly Mediterranean region. Australia: 38–40 species (naturalized), all States except N.T.

Many species are widely cultivated as pasture plants and most of these have become naturalized, growing most commonly on disturbed sites such as roadsides, gardens, lawns and pastures.

Text by P. H. Weston
Taxon concept:

 Key to the species 
1Leaves with terminal petiolule distinctly longer than lateral ones; corolla yellow2
Leaves with terminal petiolule equal to lateral ones; corolla white, cream or pink to red3
2Standard spoon-shaped in pod; inflorescences globose, many-floweredTrifolium campestre
Standard boat-shaped in pod; inflorescences semiglobose, 3–20-flowered
                       Back to 1
Trifolium dubium
3Inflorescences with 3–16 fertile flowers with corollas and numerous sterile ones without corollas4
All flowers fertile
                       Back to 1
5
4Inflorescences with 3–6 fertile flowers; fruiting heads penetrating the ground; inflorescences axillary; corolla not persistent in fruit; pod exserted from calyxTrifolium subterraneum
Inflorescences with 10–16 fertile flowers; fruiting heads aerial; inflorescences terminal; corolla persistent in fruit; pod included in calyx
                       Back to 3
Trifolium globosum
5Calyx tube inflated and vesiculous in pod6
Calyx tube unchanged or distended in pod
                       Back to 3
8
6Flowers resupinate; corolla not persistent in fruit; annuals7
Flowers not resupinate; corolla persistent in fruit; perennials
                       Back to 5
22
7Peduncles longer than subtending leaves; inflorescences globose; calyx teeth spiny; calyx throat glabrousTrifolium resupinatum
Peduncles shorter than subtending leaves; inflorescences umbellate; calyx teeth blunt; calyx throat with a ring of hairs
                       Back to 6
Trifolium tomentosum
8Inflorescences sessile, overtopped by broad membranous stipulesTrifolium suffocatum
Inflorescences sessile or pedunculate, not overtopped by stipules
                       Back to 5
9
9Flowers pedicellate, often shortly so10
Flowers sessile
                       Back to 8
15
10Inflorescences 1–5-floweredTrifolium ornithopodioides
Inflorescences more than 8-flowered
                       Back to 9
11
11Peduncle shorter than subtending leaf, or inflorescence sessile12
Peduncle longer than subtending leaf
                       Back to 10
13
12Pod included in calyx; calyx teeth bluntTrifolium glomeratum
Pod exserted from calyx; calyx teeth spiny
                       Back to 11
Trifolium cernuum
13Pedicels of only the lower flowers deflexed after anthesis; calyx teeth equal to subequal; pod included in calyxTrifolium ambiguum
Pedicels of all flowers deflexed after anthesis; calyx teeth unequal; pod exserted from calyx
                       Back to 11
14
14Calyx teeth erect in pod; plants not rhizomatous; calyx with 5 prominent and 5 inconspicuous veinsTrifolium hybridum
Calyx teeth spreading in pod; plants rhizomatous; calyx with 10 more or less equally conspicuous veins
                       Back to 13
Trifolium repens
15Leaflet margins entire, or nearly so16
Leaflet margins toothed, sometimes finely so
                       Back to 9
18
16Peduncle longer than subtending leaf; calyx teeth equalTrifolium arvense
Peduncle shorter than subtending leaf; calyx teeth unequal
                       Back to 15
17
17Leaves 3-foliolate; leaflets 1–2 times as long as broad; calyx throat narrowed by an annular thickening in pod; teeth blunt, erect in pod; corolla persistent in pod; stipules abruptly narrowed to a bristly apexTrifolium pratense
Leaves 3-foliolate; leaflets 12–15 times as long as broad; calyx throat closed by a 2-lipped callosity in pod, teeth spiny, spreading in pod; corolla not persistent in pod; stipules subulate
                       Back to 16
Trifolium angustifolium
18Corollas persistent in pod19
Corollas not persistent in pod
                       Back to 15
20
19Corolla 5–7 mm long, pink; calyx tube 10-veined, teeth spinyTrifolium striatum
Corolla 15–17 mm long, purple; calyx tube 20-veined, teeth blunt
                       Back to 18
Trifolium hirtum
20Inflorescences sessile; calyx teeth unequalTrifolium scabrum
Inflorescences pedunculate; calyx teeth equal to subequal
                       Back to 18
21
21Flowers cream, bracteolate; pod included in calyx; calyx teeth bluntTrifolium alexandrinum
Flowers usually red to purple, without bracteoles; pod exserted from calyx; calyx teeth spiny
                       Back to 20
Trifolium incarnatum
22Corolla 6–8 mm long; calyx pilose.Trifolium fragiferum
Corolla 12–15 mm long; calyx glabrous.
                       Back to 6
Trifolium vesiculosum

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