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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