Trifolium steudneri

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Trifoliolate leaves (narrowly elliptic leaflets), inflorescence, developing pods, (main picture), and single pods and seeds (inset)

Mature pods.

Spreading decumbent annual.

Inflorescences and foliage.

Foliage and semi-erect habit.

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Scientific name

Trifolium steudneri Schweinf.




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

Common names

Steudner's clover.

Morphological description

Annual glabrous herb up to 60 cm tall with many erect to spreading, grooved stems.  Leaflets narrowly elliptic, up to 40 x 8 mm, margins finely toothed.  Petioles up to 50 mm long with upper leaves on shorter petioles.  Stipules up to 25 mm long with narrowly triangular tips.  Inflorescences globose, about 10-20 flowered, up to 13-20 mm across, short-pedunculate.  Bracts several-nerved forming an involucre, outer bracts abruptly and sharply pointed, up to 7 mm long, inner bracts oblong, 3 mm long.  Calyx about 40-nerved, glabrous or occasionally pilose;  lobes triangular, 2-3 mm long.  Corolla purplish, 7-8 mm long, sometimes with filiform tips.  Pods 4 mm long and usually 2-4 seeded.  Seeds oval, brown and usually 1.5 x 2 mm.


Native to:
East Africa:  Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda
Found in upland grasslands and bushlands, riverine margins and damp places and weed of crop land.


Regarded as good legume for grazing in native pastures with potential for use as an annual legume for pasture improvement.  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.  This is a fast growing annual species that can provide good biomass within 2-3 months.


Soil requirements

Adapted to a wide range of soils from heavy clay vertisols and nitosols to loams and sandy loams from pH 4.0-8.0.


Adapted to high rainfall areas but grows well in dry areas.  Rainfall in its natural range varies from 700-2,000 mm/yr.  T. steudneri is more drought tolerant than other highland Trifolium species probably because it develops deep roots within a short period.


Adapted to the cool frost-free tropical highlands, T. steudneri occurs from 1,100-2,800 m in its native area.  This species can be grown at lower altitudes than any of the other Ethiopian indigenous clovers and is best suited to middle altitudes of around 1,800 m with moderate rainfall.  Ground temperatures below 7ºC during the growing season retard growth and 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 50-90 days after planting in areas close to the equator with approximately 12-hour days.  Plants are fast maturing and flower in August during the wet season.


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 the pasture is mowed to about 5-10 cm.


No information available.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Clovers 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.  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 it readily nodulates with native rhizobia, fixing the equivalent of 40-65 kg/ha N and although this is relatively low compared to the other African annual cloves, nitrogen fertiliser is not required.


Large dry matter yield increases are seen in response to P application on poor soils.  Fertiliser (DAP) is recommended when grown on poor soils at an optimum rate of 25-30 kg/ha P.  Application of 30 kg/ha P doubled the number of nodules and increased root weight by about 50%.

Compatibility (with other species)

T. steudneri 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.  An excellent species for bee keeping and honey production.

Companion species

Grasses:  Pennisetum clandestinum , P. schimperi, Cynodon dactylon , Setaria sphacelata.
Legumes:  Trifolium quartinianum , T. rueppellianum , 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.  Substantial seed reserves were found in the top 5 cm of soil after 4 years of fallow in Ethiopia.

Weed potential

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

Feeding value

Nutritive value

Crude protein levels vary with genotype, age at harvest and environment and are about 19% when plants are harvested at full flowering stage.  It has 60-80% (weight/weight) digestible dry matter.


This species is very palatable.


No information available.

Production potential

Dry matter

At least 1,000 mm rainfall is needed for high forage production.  Yields are variable dependent on soil temperature, rainfall , fertility and genotype.  Some genotypes are quite small and drop leaves rapidly.  Although moderate yields of 2-3 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 to avoid bloat.


2n = 16.  Plants are autogamous .

Seed production

At least 1,300 mm rainfall is needed for good flowering and seed production.  Plants flower at the end of the rains.  Seed yields can be as high as 800-900 kg/ha with 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.
Dougall, H.W. (1962) The chemical composition of some species and varieties of TrifoliumEast African Agricultural and Forestry Journal, 27, 142-144.
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.
Pritchard, A.J. and 'T Mannetje, L. (1967) The breeding systems and some interspecific relations of a number of African Trifolium spp. Euphytica, 16, 324-329.

Internet links




Country/date released


None released to date.          

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



ILRI 9720 Ethiopia Early maturing ecotype with mean yield of over 7 t/ha.