Egyptian clover (Trifolium Alexandrianum) is more commonly known in
the Nile valley as Berseem. It is of at least three varieties. These are
the Muscowi, Fachl and Saida, all of which are more or less closely
related to medium red clover. The term
Alexandrianum as applied above
is somewhat misleading, as its growth is not specially identified with
Alexandria, nor is its growth in Egypt supposed to be of great
antiquity, since no trace of it is found upon the ancient monuments.
The Muscowi variety, which is commonly grown more especially in lower
Egypt, sometimes grows to the height of 5 feet and over, but usually it
is not more than half the height named. In its habit of growth it is
rather upright, like alfalfa, but the hollow stems are softer and more
succulent, and the blossoms occur on heads resembling those of clover,
but not so compactly formed, and they are white in color. The seeds bear
a close resemblance to those of crimson clover. The roots are much
shorter, but more spreading in their habit of growth than those of
alfalfa, and in Egyptian soils they bear small tubercles abundantly.
This variety, which is usually grown on land that can be irrigated at
any season, produces in some instances 5 cuttings in a season. The Fachl
variety is usually grown on land irrigated by the basin system; that is,
the system which covers the land with water but once a year, and for a
period more or less prolonged. But one crop a year is taken from such
land. The hay from this variety is heavier for the bulk than that of the
Muscowi. The Saida variety is of a lower habit of growth than the
Muscowi and has a longer tap root, which enables it to stand drought
better than the Muscowi. It is more commonly sown in Egypt southward
All these varieties are annual. The period of growth covered by any one
of them is never more than 9 months, and usually not more than 6
months; that is to say, from October to March. The Muscowi variety
especially grows very rapidly.
Egyptian clover in all its varieties is pre-eminently a soiling plant.
It is sometimes pastured and is also made into hay. It is practically
the one fodder crop of Egypt, and is more commonly fed in the green
form. All kinds of stock are fond of it, and it is fed freely to horses,
donkeys and camels at labor, to cows in milk, and to cattle that are
being fattened. It also serves to keep Egyptian soils supplied with
nitrogen, for the support of crops grown on them in summer, especially
cotton, and various kinds of grain. Moreover, because of the frequency
of the cuttings, with the Muscowi variety, its growth tends very much to
check the growth of weeds.
Egyptian clover is not native to Egypt, but was introduced from some
country outside of Egypt, yet bordering on the Mediterranean. This, at
least, is the view presented in Bulletin No. 23, issued by the Bureau of
Plant Industry, United States Department of Agriculture, from which
source much of what is written with reference to this plant has been
obtained. In Egypt more than 1,000,000 acres are grown annually. It is
also being tried, with much promise, in other portions of Northern
Africa, as Tunis and Algiers. It is also now being experimented with in
various parts of the Southern and Southwestern States.
Egyptian clover is only adapted to a warm climate. In those parts of the
United States which have a climate not unlike that of Egypt, in many
respects, as Florida, Southern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, it may
have an important mission. It may yet be grown in these areas, or some
of them, where irrigation is practiced in conjunction with cotton, or
with certain of the cereals. If it can be thus grown, it will prove of
much value, as it would only occupy the land when not occupied by the
crops usually grown in summer, and it would bring much fertility to the
same, in addition to the forage provided. Since in Tunis it has been
found that the plants have not been killed by cold 2 deg. below zero and in
Algiers 9 deg. below that point, the hope would seem to be justifiable that
this clover may yet be grown much further north than the States named.
If grown thus, however, it should not be as a substitute for alfalfa,
but rather to occupy the ground in winter when not producing otherwise.
It may yet be found that the Saida variety may have adaptation for some
localities in the West where irrigation cannot be practiced. This clover
is not likely to render any considerable service to any part of Canada,
because of the lack of adaptation in the climate.
Egyptian clover has highest adaptation for deposit soils, such as are
made by the settling of silt held in solution by waters that overflow.
In these it will grow with vigor, though they rest upon coarse sand or
even upon gravel not too near the surface. Irrigating waters to some
extent are necessary to grow the plants in best form, although, as
previously intimated, the Saida variety may yet be grown without the aid
of such waters. It is the first crop sown on reclaimed alkaline lands,
and growing it on these tends to remove the alkali and to sweeten and
otherwise improve the soils.
The place for this plant in the rotation is readily apparent. Like
crimson clover, it is clearly a catch crop, as it were, and a winter
plant, but with the difference that it grows much more rapidly under
suitable conditions and furnishes much more food. The advantage of
growing it northward in the Western mountain valleys when sown in
spring, as intimated by the writer of the bulletin already referred to,
would seem to be at least problematical, since it could not be sown
early enough in the spring to produce a crop as early as alfalfa already
established. It would then be grown also as the crop of the season,
rather than as a catch crop. The place for Egyptian clover in the
rotation is clearly that of a winter crop, to provide soiling food for
stock and plant food for the land, which may be utilized by the summer
crop that follows.
In Egypt the seed is frequently sown on the silt deposited by the waters
that have subsided and before it would be dry enough to plow. At other
times, it is sowed on land stirred on the surface to a greater or less
depth, and sprouted through the aid of irrigating waters. In the valleys
of the West that preparation of the soil found suitable for alfalfa
would also, doubtless, be found suitable for this clover.
The seed is sown in the autumn in Egypt, usually in October, but the
season of sowing lasts from September to January, and some crops have
been obtained sown as late as April 1st, but when sown late, the number
of the cuttings is reduced and the occupancy of the soil by the clover
interferes with the growing of other crops. Under American conditions,
it will doubtless be found that the best season for sowing Egyptian
clover will be just after the removal of the crop that occupied the land
in summer. The seed is usually sowed by hand and without admixture, but
the Fachl variety is sown in some instances with wheat or barley when
seed is wanted. The methods of sowing found suitable for alfalfa would
also seem to be proper for sowing Egyptian clover. (See page 78.) As
much as one bushel of seed is sown per acre, but it is thought that a
less amount will suffice under good methods of tillage.
Egyptian clover is sometimes pastured, but it has higher adaptation to
soiling, because of the softness of the stems. When pastured reasonably
close, cropping would probably be preferable, as there would then be
less waste from the treading of the plants. Nevertheless, in Egypt
considerable quantities of the hay are stored for feeding in the summer
months when green fodder is scarce.
Egyptian clover is sometimes made into hay, but it is not essentially a
hay plant. Much care is necessary when it is being cured to prevent loss
in the leaves, and when cured the stems are so brittle that it is
difficult to prevent waste in handling the hay. It is pre-eminently a
soiling crop, and the greater portion is fed in the green form. From 4
cuttings of the Muscowi variety as much as 25 to 30 tons of green
fodder are harvested, and about 10 tons are produced by 2 cuttings of
the Saida variety.
Egyptian clover has not been grown sufficiently long in this country to
justify giving information based upon American experience that could be
taken as authoritative, with reference to the best methods of harvesting
the seed crop. There would seem to be no reasons, however, to suppose
that the methods followed in harvesting alfalfa could not be followed
with equal advantage in harvesting Egyptian clover. Nor can anything be
said as yet with reference to which cutting of the series will furnish
the best seed crop.
The best service, probably, which this crop can render to the United
States is the enrichment of the soils on which the plants are grown. As
the same bacteria which inoculate alfalfa soils will not answer for
Egyptian clover, and as the requisite bacteria may not be found in soils
where it is desirable to grow this clover, the conclusion that it will
not grow sufficiently well in certain soils on which it is being tried
should not be reached until the question relating to the presence or
absence of the proper bacteria has been settled. If necessary to
introduce bacteria from Egypt, the obstacles in the way of such
introduction would not be at all serious, if undertaken by the
Department of Agriculture.
Next: Yellow Clover
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