Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Going underground.....

It is not often one can say that local council verge management is beneficial to wildlife. Generally, down our lane, verge management is somewhat haphazard.

Our local council has what can only be described as a 'bare earth' policy when they cut the verges near the allotments and cemetery. The environmental cost (man hours and fuel) of mowing grass to look like a heavily worn, threadbare carpet is debatable. The benchmark seems to be 'if there is at least 50% bare earth, the bank is cut short enough'.

But.......for the keen-eyed botanist, this ┼▒ber-mowing, has a diminutive advantage, in the form of an easily overlooked clover: subterranean clover, Trifolium subterraneum.

Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum) (with a few yarrow leaves)

Inconspicuous white flowers of Trifolium subterraneum

Sub clover (as it is known) is native to England. It can survive in inhospitable environments (dry, over-mown, road verges, for example). It has the curious ability of being able to bury its seed underground (hence subterranean or 'burrowing' clover). The correct word for this is 'geocarpic', which essentially means the plant buries the maturing seed by pushing it underground. In the case of sub clover a burr forms round the seed and this is driven underground. Clever plant.

Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum) burr

Because it is grown as a forage crop, this little plant has an impressive literature about it (albeit mostly behind paywalls. Grrrr). The Australian Department of Agriculture report that it contains phyto-oestrogens (for example, formononetin). These chemicals, can, if sheep are grazed on green pasture rich in these legumes, negatively affect breeding (called clover infertility).

What a brill little plant!

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