Egyptian Clover

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

from Cairo.

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.

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