Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Anna B. Comstock

The White Clover

Teacher's Story

dropcap image HE sweet clover should be studied first, for after making this study it is easier to understand the blossoming of the white and the red clover. In the sweet clovers, the flowers are strung along the stalk but in the red, the white, and many others, it is as if the blossom stalk were telescoped, so that the flowers are all in one bunch, the tip of the stalk making the center of the clover head. We use the white clover in our lawns because of a peculiarity of its stem, which, instead of standing erect, lies flat on the ground, sending leaves and blossoms upward and thus making a thick carpet over the ground. The leaves are very pretty; and although they grow upon the stems alternately, they always manage to twist around so as to lift their three leaflets upward to the light. The three leaflets are nearly equal in size, with fine, even veins and toothed edges; and each has upon it, near the middle, a pale, angular spot. The white clover, in common with other clovers, has the pretty habit of going to sleep at night. Botanists may object to this human term, but the great Linnæus first called it sleep, and we may be permitted to follow his example. Certainly the way the clover leaves fold at the middle, the three drawing near each other, looks like going to sleep, and is one of the things which even the little child will enjoy observing.

The clover head is made up of many little flowers; each one has a tubular calyx with five delicate points and a little stem to hold it up into the world. In shape, the corolla is much like that of the sweet pea, and each secretes nectar at its base. The outside blossoms open first; and as soon as they are open, the honey bees, which eagerly visit white clover wherever it is growing, begin at once their work of gathering nectar and carrying pollen; as soon as the florets are pollenated they wither and droop below the flower-head.

"Where I made One, turn down an empty Glass."

Sings old Omar, and I always think of it when I see the turned-down florets of the white-clover blossom. But in this case the glass is not empty, but holds the maturing seed. This habit of the white clover flowers saves the bees much time, since only those which need pollenating are lifted upward to receive their visits. The length of time the little clover head requires for the maturing of its blossoms depends much upon the weather and upon the insect visitors.

White clover honey is in the opinion of many the most delicious honey made from any flowers except, perhaps, from orange blossoms. So valuable is the white clover as a honey plant, that apiarists often grow acres of it for their bees.


The White Clover

Leading thought—The white clover has creeping stems. Its flowers depend upon the bees for their pollenation, and the bees depend upon the white clover blossoms for honey.

Method—The plant may be brought into the schoolroom while in blossom, and its form be studied there. Observations as to the fertilization of the flowers should be made out-of-doors.


1. Where does the white clover grow? Why is it so valuable in lawns?

2. Note carefully the clover leaf, the shape of the three leaflets, stems, and edges. Is part of the leaflet lighter colored than the rest? If so, describe the shape. Are the leaflets unequal or equal in size? Does each leaf come directly from the root? Are they alternately arranged? Why do they seem to come from the upper side of the stem?

3. Note the behavior of the clover leaves at night. How do the two side leaflets act? The central leaflet? Do you think that this is because the plant is sleepy?

4. Take a white clover head, and note that it is made up of many little flowers. How many? Study one of the little flowers with a lens. Can you see its calyx? Its petals? Its stem? In what way is it similar to the blossom of the sweet pea?

5. Take a head of white clover which has not yet blossomed. Tie a string about its stem so that you may be sure you are observing the same flower and make the following observations during several days: Which blossoms begin to open first—those outside or inside? How many buds open each day? What happens to the blossoms as they fade? Of what use is this to the plant? How many days pass from the time the flowers begin to blossom until the last flower at the center opens?

6. What insects do you see working on the white clover blossoms? How does the bee act when collecting nectar? Can you see where she thrusts her tongue? What does the bee do for the clover blossom? What sort of honey does the white clover give to the bee?

7. Tie little bags of cheesecloth over two or three heads of white clover and see if they produce any seed.

"Little flower; but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is."


"To me the meanest flower that blows, can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."


"I know a place where the sun is like gold,

And the cherry blooms burst with snow,

And down underneath is the loveliest nook

Where the four leaf clovers grow."

—Ella Higginson.