Thursday, May 15, 2014

Red, red, red.

Along the short access road leading off the main road into Centennial Beach Park, I always drive very slowly, so that we can count eagles, look for hawks, maybe even catch sight of an osprey off in the distance. Sometimes we find something a little closer, a little less fleeting.

Like Crimson Clover.

Clover along the side of the road. Trifolium incarnatum, aka Scarlet Clover, Italian Clover, German Clover.

We saw it first a few years ago, and every year since then, I've been looking for it, without luck. last week, there it was again. I stopped, as I had before, and we got down in the grass and examined it up close.

One stalk, and it looks like 4 leaves; our lucky clover!

This is a European import. On this continent, it grows from southern Canada, down through the US, and, where the climate is warm enough, as in southern BC, is used as a winter ground cover. Planted from seed (or gone wild, as here) in late summer or fall, it grows slowly over the winter, then bursts briefly into bloom in the spring. Then it disappears into the grass. No wonder we haven't seen it every year; we have to be there the right days.

It's a tall, strong clover, when it's in bloom. The heads are large and taller than most clovers.

Zooming in on that gloriously red head.

This road goes through the sandy dunes between the marsh and the beach area; poor soil, rather acid, exposed to drying winds in the higher areas, home to grasses and scratchy shrubs.The clover thrives here possibly because of its strong root system, which reaches down deep and spreads, holding the sand. Like all clovers, it adds nitrogen to the soil.

Some websites tell me it's good for animal forage. Others disagree. Laurie's old book, Fodder and Pasture Plants, from the Canadian Department of Agriculture (a 1913 book!) says it's "especially suitable for those (farm animals) doing heavy work." It seems that the trick is using it just until it flowers, but never afterwards.

I forgot to check, while I had the clover in hand, whether its nectar is sweet at this stage. Our ordinary pink clover is sweet; the small white flowers aren't.

We'll watch for it next April and May again.

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