NDSU Extension - Stark & Billings County


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Yellow Sweet Clover

Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) has gained attention this summer, because of the tremendous yellow bloom across country.

Yellow sweet clover is a biennial plant, which means it has a two-year life cycle. In the first year, there is very little top growth because the plant puts most of its resources into establishing its vast and deep root system. Most people likely do not notice it in the pasture or field because it is only a few inches tall. In the second year, sweet clover puts its resources into abovegound growth, setting up tall stalks with abundant yellow flowers. Thus, two consecutive years of good precipitation are what allow sweet clover to 1) establish and have ideal conditions for root growth and 2) flourish aboveground. Sweet clover can be differentiated from alfalfa because its trifoliate (three leaflets) leaves have teeth along the entire margin, or edge. Alfalfa, in contrast, has teeth on only half of the leaflet edge. Sweet clover is an abundant seed producer and seeds can remain viable for 30-40 years, giving it a competitive edge.

Besides producing a large amount of forage under these growing conditions, sweet clover also provides very nutritious forage if managed properly. It is a legume, so similar to alfalfa and other clovers, it is high in protein. Unless sweet clover is allowed to get tall with heavy stems, it is easily digested by livestock and is a good source of energy. It also provides good food for mule deer, elk, and antelope and good nesting habitat for pheasants, grouse, and other upland birds. Sweet clover is extremely attractive to pollinators such as honey bees, and in fact, its scientific name, Melilotus, comes partly from the Latin word Mel, which means “honey.”

Sweet clover is an opportunistic plant that is going to be abundant in pastures and hay fields when growing conditions are favorable, ideally for two consecutive years.

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