Thursday, October 2, 2008


"In former times we gathered clover."
-Carolina Welmas (Cupeno Indian), 1973

Once so common as to be an important food source for the indigenous Californians, the native clovers of California are now rarely seen. Once, they inhabited the bare spots between bunchgrasses, fixing nitrogen for the bunchgrasses with which they intertwined, or shared the wildflower fields with other annual wildflowers. Most are extremely attractive, both in flower and foliage, and quite varied. Low-growing, they make good "front of the border bloomers", and are delightful in containers.

Normally, they are sown in the fall and bloom in early spring to mid-summer, but we have had successful grow-outs sowing both later and earlier. See picture below: Sowing the seed in flats in February, we transplanted into 4" pots in April, into the ground in June, and still have them blooming in September, both in containers and in border plantings. Trifolium albopurpurpeum, delicately beautiful, with deep purple and white markings and long, narrow, elegant leaves,

Clovers are both nutritious, delicious, and TOXIC. WARNING: All clovers have toxic principles, so please don't eat them till we know more. The indigenous technology of "clover eating," precious knowledge, is not readily available to us. Consider yourself warned. For now, till we know more, please grow for their beauty, interest, and wildlife value. Note that in 1902, V.K. Chesnut in his classic ethnobotany, Plants Used by the Indians of Mendocino County discusses the importance of clover-eating. He also mentions that in Round Valley, an Indian woman died, reputedly from eating too much native clover.

The Queen of Clovers
Showy Indian clover, Trifolium amoenum. In 1993, a single plant of T. amoenum, presumed to be extinct, was about to be bulldozed next to a road near Occidental in Sonoma County. Rescued in the nick of time, those precious seeds have been carefully passed around for grow-outs. This year, we grew twenty plants, and are listing this seed for the first time in VERY limited quantities.