Trifolium tembense

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Trifoliolate leaves and inflorescences.

Empty seedpods (top) - seedpod with seed (left) - seeds (right).

Spreading annual - with flowers.

Spreading annual - with seedpods.

Prostrate flowering stems and foliage.

Erect flowering stems.

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Scientific name

Trifolium tembense Fresen.


Trifolium umbellulatum A. Rich.


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

Common names

Tembien clover.

Morphological description

Annual herb with many erect or spreading stems, sometimes rooting at the nodes, glabrous or nearly so.  Leaflets elliptic or obovate, usually up to 20 x 10 mm, narrowed at the base and with toothed margins.  Petioles usually up to 5 cm long, in upper leaves very short or wholly united with stipules.  Stipules about 15 mm long and with the free part abruptly contracted to a fine point.  Inflorescences usually globose, 3-16 flowered, up to 23 mm across, long pedunculate.  Calyx 5-7 mm long, sparsely pilose at margins, 11-nerved;  lobes about 5 mm long, twice as long as tube and gradually narrowing from the 1.5 mm wide base, with broad scarious margins.  Corolla purple or rarely white;  standard longer than wings and keel and about 9 mm long, abruptly narrowed above the middle into an oblong, truncate, down-curved tip.  Pods 5-8 mm long, glabrous and 4-6 seeded.  When ripe, pods dehisce along the top prominent margin for seed dispersal.  Seeds oval, brown and usually 1.5 x 1 mm.


Native to:
East Africa:  Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda.
Found in upland grasslands in waterlogged areas and as a weed of crop land.


Regarded as good legume for grazing in native pastures with potential for use as an annual legume for pasture improvement in high altitude and seasonally waterlogged areas.


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.  Very tolerant of waterlogging .    Can tolerate low P and shows a variable response.


Adapted to high rainfall areas.  Rainfall in its natural range varies from 700-2,000 mm/yr.  This is the most wetland tolerant of all the indigenous Ethiopian Trifolium species.


Adapted to the cool frost-free tropical highlands, T. tembense occurs from 1,700-3,200 m in its native area.  This species is very tolerant of cool wet conditions and occasionally occurs in wet areas as low as 1,400 m.  Ground temperatures below 7ºC during the growing season may retard growth, although this species is well adapted to cooler climates and forage production may be low at altitudes above 2,800 m in tropical areas.


No information available.

Reproductive development

Flowering occurs from 65-110 days after planting in areas close to the equator with approximately 12-hour days.  It is early maturing and flowers near the end of the rains.


Tolerant to grazing and makes good quality hay, although defoliation occurs when mature.  Grazing in the late season reduces seed heads leading to reduced regeneration in following years.  Being decumbent it responds well to cutting and competes better with grasses when the pasture is heavily grazed or mowed to about 5-10cm.


No information available.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


T. tembense is sown from seed at rates of 5-6 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 nodulates readily with native rhizobia and nitrogen fertiliser is not required.


Large dry matter yield increases are seen in response to P application on poorer 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. tembense 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 .
Legumes:  Trifolium steudneri , T. rueppellianum , T. decorum , T. semipilosum , T. usambarense .

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 range from 10-18% when plants are harvested after 120-135 days and in some accessions can reach as high as 24% at full flowering stage.  Lignin content is from 5-8% and IVDMD from 70-75%.


It is rather unpalatable until very mature.  After maturity, leaf drop is common and the resulting hay has a high proportion of stem , although this did not reduce acceptability to sheep or dairy cattle.


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.  Peak yields are obtained about 120 days after sowing and usually decline as the plants age due to leaf drop.  Although moderate yields of 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.  Flowers are small and only few in an inflorescence .

Seed production

At least 1,300 mm rainfall is needed for good flowering and seed production.  Plants flower at the end of the rains and pods quickly ripen. Pods are dehiscent when ripe and seeds can be lost unless harvest is timely.   Seed yields can reach 1 t/ha with application of 35 kg/ha P.  Seeds are hard-seeded and store well.

Herbicide effects

No information available.



Other comments


Selected references

Akundabweni, L. (1986) Forage potential of some native annual Trifolium species in the Ethiopian highlands. In: Haque, I. Jutzi, S.C. and Neate, P.J.H. (eds) Proceedings of a workshop. Potentials of forage legumes in farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa. pp. 439-459.
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 Trifolium. East African Agricultural and Forestry Journal, 27, 142-144.
Eeghen, M. v., Kahurananga, J. and Lambourne, L.J. (1987) Animal evaluation of Trifolium tembense . In: IAR proceedings. First national livestock improvement conference. pp. 159-162.
Gillet, J.M. and Taylor, N.L. (2001) The World of Clovers . Iowa State University Press.
Kahurananga, J. and Asres Tsehay (1991) Variarion 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.
Wilson, G.P.M. and Bowman, A.M. (1993) Trifolium species on the New South Wales north coast: 2. African species. Genetic Resources Communication, No. 19 .

Internet links



Country/date released


None released to date.          

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



ILRI 8501 Ethiopia Early maturing ecotype with mean yield of over 5 t/ha.