Trifolium decorum

Click on images to enlarge

Inflorescences and foliage.

Inflorescence, early pod development, and seeds.

Inflorescence and immature pods.

Produces high seed yields for annual regeneration.

Print Fact Sheet

Scientific name

Trifolium decorum Chiov.




Family: Fabaceae (alt. Leguminosae) subfamily: Faboideae tribe: Trifolieae. Also placed in: Papilionaceae .

Common names


Morphological description

Annual with ascending stems, glabrous, up to 50 cm tall.  Leaflets ovate to suborbicular, 30-45 x 18-28 mm, narrowed towards base and with finely toothed margins, especially in the upper part.  Petioles up to 120 mm long on lower leaves, upper leaves short-stalked.  Stipules ovate-acuminate up to 10 mm.  Inflorescences almost round 15-25 mm diameter, 6-15-flowered, long pedunculate of 20-60 mm borne in the axils of leaves.  Calyx about 5 mm long, 15-25 nerved;  lobes triangular, 2-3 mm long, sparsely pilose at the margins.  Corolla purple, 10-14 mm long, twice as long as calyx or more, standard slightly longer than the wings and keel .  Pods 6 mm long and 3-5 seeded.  Seeds oval, brown and usually 1.5 x 2 mm.


Native to:
East Africa:  Ethiopia.
Found in upland grasslands in moist places and as weed of crop land.


This species is widespread in the highland vertisols and grasslands in the Ethiopian highlands.  It is regarded as a good legume for grazing in native pastures with potential for use as an annual legume for pasture improvement in high altitude areas.  It can also be used for hay and silage.  Used for intercropping with wheat or barley in tropical highlands to improve soil nitrogen and quality of residues for livestock feed.  An excellent species for bee keeping and honey production.


Soil requirements

Adapted to a wide range of soils from heavy clay vertisols and nitosols to loams and sandy loams from pH 4.0-7.0.  Tolerates seasonal waterlogging , which makes it an ideal species for use on vertisols.


Adapted to high rainfall areas and may not reach flowering stage in dry areas.  Rainfall in its natural range varies from 1,000-2,000 mm/yr.


Adapted to the cool frost-free tropical highlands, T. decorum occurs from 1,800-3,000 m in its native area.  This is one of the best Trifolium species for use in higher altitudes during the rains when there is no frost, although ground temperatures below 7ºC during the growing season retard growth.  Although this species is well adapted to the highlands, an elevation of about 2,600 m is about the upper limit for good forage production in tropical areas.


No information available.

Reproductive development

Flowering occurs from 70-110 days after planting in areas close to the equator with approximately 12-hour days. There are several leafy later flowering genotypes with potential as fodder.


Clovers tolerate moderate to high grazing.  Grazing late in the season reduces seed heads leading to reduced regeneration in following years.  They respond well to defoliation and compete better with grasses when mown to about 5-10 cm.


No information available.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Clovers are prolific seeders and pastures are usually sown from seed at rates of 1-2 kg/ha.  Seeds are hard and require scarification before planting to ensure uniform germination.  Seeds are small and seedbeds should be well prepared to a fine, firm tilth.  Seeds are best sown just below the surface, lightly covered and rolled.  Clover seed can be sown directly into the stubble, with no further seedbed preparation and covered by using a roller or light disking.  Germination occurs in about 5-7 days and young seedlings can be observed about 2 weeks after planting.  African Trifolium species are highly specialised in their rhizobium requirements.  In its native habitat T. decorum nodulates readily with native rhizobia, fixing the equivalent of 85-112 kg/ha N and nitrogen fertiliser is not required.


Fertiliser (DAP) is recommended when grown on poor soils at a rate of 25-30 kg/ha P.

Compatibility (with other species)

T. decorum combines well with other annual clovers and short-growing grasses.  It has been used successfully for intercropping with wheat without significant reduction of wheat grain and straw yields.

Companion species

Grasses:  Pennisetum clandestinum , P. schimperi, Cynodon dactylon .
Legumes:  Trifolium quartinianum , T. rueppellianum , T. steudneri , T. tembense .

Pests and diseases

Under cool damp conditions, seedlings are sensitive to damping-off disease from the soil-borne fungi (Pythium spp.) resulting in rapid seedling death.  Plants are susceptible to red spider mites when grown in the greenhouse or shade areas.

Ability to spread

Plants dry and die back after seed set but hard seeds may be dispersed by water and small animals and remain in the soil for several years, allowing pastures to regrow annually.

Weed potential

This species is very palatable and intensively grazed, reducing seed set and dispersal.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

Clovers contain from 60-80% (weight/weight) digestible dry matter and about 20% protein.


This species is very palatable.


This species is reported to contain saponins, which can cause bloat if animals are allowed to graze large quantities. Traditionally grazing on Trifolium pastures is controlled to avoid these problems.

Production potential

Dry matter

At least 1,000 mm rainfall is needed for high forage production.  Yields are variable and dependent on soil temperature, rainfall , fertility and genotype.  Although moderate yields of 3-4 t/ha are common, yields can reach up to 6 t/ha with application of 40 kg/ha P.

Animal production

Forage is beneficial for dairy and beef cattle and for horses, but care should be taken not to use as a sole diet in order to avoid bloat.


2n = 16.

Seed production

At least 1,300 mm rainfall is needed for good flowering and seed production.  Plants flower at the end of the rains, although some genotypes are very late flowering and plants can flower well into the dry season if there is sufficient residual soil moisture. Pollination is by bees.  T. decorum is a good seed producer with yields of around 500 kg/ha, although a good stand can yield up to750 kg/ha with applications of 35 kg/ha P.  Seeds are hard-seeded and store well.

Herbicide effects

No information available.



Other comments


Selected references

Akundabweni, L. and Njuguna, S.K. (1996) Seed production of native hay clovers in the highlands of eastern Africa. Tropical Grasslands, 30, 257-261.
Gillet, J.M. and Taylor, N.L. (2001) The World of Clovers . Iowa State University Press.
Kahurananga, J. and Asres Tsehay (1991) Variation in flowering time, dry matter and seed yield among annual Trifolium species, Ethiopia.  Tropical Grasslands, 25, 20-25.

Internet links




Country/date released


None released to date.      

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



ILRI 6264 Ethiopia Late maturing ecotype with mean yield of over 5 t/ha and good response to P.
ILRI 9447 Ethiopia Late maturing ecotype with mean yield of over 7 t/ha.