Japan Clover





Japan Clover (Lespedeza striata) was introduced from China or Japan,

or from both countries, into South Carolina in 1849, under the name

Japan clover. It is thought the seed came in connection with the tea

trade with these countries. According to Phares, the generic term

Lespedeza, borne by the one-seeded pods of the plants of this family,

was assigned to them in honor of Lespedez, a governor of Florida under

Spanish rule. It is sometimes called Bush clover, from the bush-shaped

habit of growth in the plants when grown on good soils, but is to be

carefully distinguished from the Bush clovers proper, which are of

little value as food plants.



Japan clover is an annual, but owing to its remarkable power to retain

its hold upon the soil, through the shedding of the seed and the growing

of the same, it has equal ability with many perennials to retain its

hold upon the soil. It does not start until late in the spring, nor can

it endure much frost; but its ability to grow in and retain its hold

upon poor soils is remarkable, while its powers of self-propagation in

the South would seem to be nearly equal to those of small white clover

(Trifolum repens) in the North. It is, therefore, one of the hardiest

plants of the clover family. Where it has once obtained a foothold, in

some soils, at least, it has been known to crowd out Bermuda grass and

even broom sage.



The form of the plants is much affected by the character of the soil in

which they grow. On poor soils, the habit of growth is low and

spreading; on good soils, it is more upright. But it is always more or

less branched, and the stems are relatively stiffer than those of other

clovers. They rise but a few inches above the ground in poor soils, not

more than 2 to 4; but in good rich soils it will attain to the height of

2 feet. About 1 foot may be named as the average height. The leaves are

trifoliate. The flower produced in the axils of the leaves are numerous,

but quite small. They appear from July onward, according to locality,

but are probably more numerous in September, and vary from a pink to a

rose-colored or purplish tint. The seed pods are small, flattish oval in

shape and contain but one seed. The tap roots are strong in proportion

to the size of the plant and are relatively deep feeding; hence, the

ability of the plant to survive severe drought. The roots have much

power to penetrate stiff subsoils.



Japan clover is not usually relished by stock at first, but they soon

come to like it, and are then fond of it. Close grazing does not readily

injure it; it also furnishes a good quality of hay, but except on

reasonably good soils, the yields of the hay are not very large. The

chemical analysis compares well with that of red clover.



Japan clover is also an excellent soil renovator. In the Southern

States, it is credited with the renovation of soils so poor that the

return was not worth the labor of tillage. Throughout much of the South,

it has rendered much service in thus improving soils. It also grows so

thickly on many soils as to lessen and, in many instances, entirely

prevent washing, that great bane of Southern soils. It will even grow

and produce some pasture under the shade of grass or Southern pines.





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