BELMONT, Ohio – Drive along any road southeastern Ohio this month and you can’t miss it.
The low-growing, three-leafed greenery with small, bright yellow blossoms seems to border most highways and punctuate the open fields with its presence.
Often called black medic, hop clover, hop medic, or nonesuch, the plant is also known, and perhaps more recognized, as yellow trefoil.
Once seen only in the southern United States, it has been found in all lower 48 states and has made a major appearance in the area. It is found in all but a few Ohio counties of Ohio, according to the USDA.
Related to the genus that includes alfalfa, burclover and the lesser known bird’s-foot trefoil, yellow trefoil is found in the genus class Medicago Leguminosae, family of Fabaceae (pea family) with a species name of Medicago lupulina L.-Black medic.
Is it invasive? The term “invasive” relates to the origin which is European and not native to our continent. Of course the word “weed” is well understood as a plant that grows somewhere other than where man wants it.
As an “invasive weed”, I say give me more of it. Golf courses and the people who train their yards to be picture perfect won’t agree with me.
First of all, it is a rather nice-looking plant with a well-organized group of small three leaflet sets on thin stem structures that resemble bird’s-foot trefoil. Stems may be only a few inches to several feet in length.
The multitude of small half-inch flowers are a pronounced bright cadmium yellow, which changes with maturity to a yellow orange, then to a nut brown color. Seeds are produced in great abundance as the flowers are self pollinating although some researchers have found that cross pollination by insects will produce even more seeds.
Lots of seeds. Since the average plant cluster may produce from 25 to 100 flowers, seed production can be substantial. The plant adapts to marginal soils and more acid pH values than its cousin alfalfa. The USDA gives the life duration as “Annual-Perennial”.
It appears to be a boon to small birds and animals that live close to the ground. Perhaps this is why there has been a great increase in this plants’ population as birds and small animals are carriers of undigested seeds. Our previous open winter may have favored this also.
Nitrogen plus. Now, to come to the part that every farmer and environmentalist would like. It is a legume. What a plus for an invasive plant. It “fixes” nitrogen from the air just like alfalfa, clover, (and yes, also locust trees). Farmers will especially see this as a cost advantage due to the rising cost of nitrogen fertilizer.
Yellow Trefoil may not be a high tonnage crop, but will help a poor stand of grasses on marginal land to produce a palatable, high protein addition to pasture or hay. Don’t expect a bumper second or third cutting from it.
Rotational grazing is a possibility but with a note of caution that, like other legumes, it may cause bloat in cattle and sheep.
Invasive weed? Well, we will just have to see what the long-term impact will be, but I am betting that it will be much more favorable than the invasive multiflora rose and autumn olive.
(Floyd Simpson owns Country Mile Farm near Belmont, Ohio, along the old Drovers Trail. Part of his farm, the original James Kinney Farmstead, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!