Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is also known by the names
French, German, German Mammoth, Italian, Egyptian and Carnation clover.
In America it is common in certain areas to speak of it as winter
clover, from the greater powers of growth which it possesses
at that season as compared with other clovers. The plants have an erect habit of growth, and yet they are soft and hairy, and they have much power to stool. More than 100 stems have been produced by one plant, but under conditions the most favorable. The leaves are numerous. The heads are oblong, cylindrical, and considerably cone-shaped, and are from 1 to 2 inches long, and much larger than those of medium red clover. The bloom is scarlet or crimson and of the richest dye; hence, a more beautiful sight is seldom seen than that of a vigorous crop of crimson clover in full bloom. The average height of the plants may be put at about 18 inches, but they have been grown to the height of 3 and even 4 feet. The root growth is fully twice that of the stems. The roots are strong, go down straight into the soil, and are to some extent branched. Crimson clover is an annual, although usually the growth covers a part of two years. Sown in the summer or early autumn, growth is completed by the advent of the following summer. It is, therefore, pre-eminently a catch crop, and because of this, when conditions admit of it, serves a purpose in American agriculture, which can be served by none of the other varieties of clover that are now grown. It has much power to grow in cool weather, when the clovers are practically dormant. It does not cease to grow until the ground has become frozen, and as soon as the frost leaves the soil growth begins at once; hence, the greater relative value this plant has for areas in which the winters are mild. Crimson clover is much relished by farm animals, whether used as pasture, soiling food, silage or hay. Under some conditions it may be pastured autumn and spring, and even through much of the winter. As a soiling plant, its value is high, not only because it is a legume, but because it comes in season at a time when it may be fed with winter rye used as soiling. But the period is short during which it furnishes soiling food. Its value as hay will always be lessened by the difficulty in curing it so early in the season, and because of the danger from feeding it to horses when cut at a too advanced stage of growth. It is much in favor for furnishing chicken pasture in winter. As a catch crop crimson clover may be made to do duty in seasons in which other clover crops may have failed. As a cover crop or a mulch for orchards, it is in high favor, as the growth which it produces protects the roots of the same. But its greatest use lies in the beneficial influence which it exerts upon soils by enriching them and also improving their mechanical condition. It is likely, therefore, to be grown more for this purpose than for any other. While growing it in many instances will not render unnecessary the use of commercial fertilizers, it will greatly reduce the quantity of these that would otherwise be necessary. Owing to the season at which it is grown, it will be found quite helpful in destroying weeds. The behavior of crimson clover has thus far been somewhat erratic, even in areas where the conditions are looked upon as generally favorable to its growth. The opinions of practical men differ much with reference to its value. There have been many instances of success and failure in the same locality, and even in the experience of the same individual. These varied experiences are doubtless due in a considerable degree to a difference in seasons, to want of acclimation in the seed sown, to a difference in varieties and to want of knowledge on the part of the growers, whose work, heretofore, has been largely tentative. Five different varieties have been grown, and these have not shown equal degrees of hardiness. But the rapidly increasing sales of seed point to the conclusion that larger areas are being sown every year. The increase referred to may be expected to grow greater for many years to come; since, when the needs of the plant are better understood, the failures will be fewer.
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