Florida clover (Desmodium tortuosum) is sometimes grown both for hay
and pasture, more especially in the Gulf States. It has been designated
botanically Desmodium molle, and is also known by the common names
Beggar Weed, Giant Beggar Weed, Beggar Ticks and Tickweed. The
name Florida Clover has been given to it because of its prevalence on the light soils of Florida. The name beggar has probably been applied to this plant because of its relation to poverty in soils, in which it is more commonly grown, and the name ticks from the clinging habit of the seed-pods to surfaces with which they come in contact. Beggar Weed is an erect and branching plant, which grows from 2 to 10 feet high. The branches are woody in character, especially in the lower parts, which prevents close cropping by animals grazing on the plants. The trifoliate leaves are numerous, especially on the upper portions. The panicle is erect and is considerably branched. The pods are prickly and have many joints. These break asunder when matured, and are frequently distributed by adhering to the covering of animals and the clothing of men. The strong, spreading roots have much power to gather food in the soil and also to enrich the same by means of the tubercles formed on the roots. [Illustration: Fig. 11. Beggar Weed or Florida Clover (Desmodium tortuosum) (Flower and Seed Stems) North Carolina Experiment Station] This plant grows only in warm weather, and it is able to withstand much drought. Its value for pasture and hay would seem to depend considerably on the stage of growth at which it is grazed or harvested for hay. When nearing maturity, stock do not relish it much, either as pasture or hay. It is frequently classed as a weed, but in certain poor soils it has been deemed worthy of cultivation. Beggar weed is native to the West India Islands and also, it is thought, to Southern Florida. In 1879 seeds were distributed by the Department of Agriculture. It is now grown more or less in the wild or cultivated form in all the Gulf States. While it may be successfully grown as far north as the Ohio River, it is not probable that it will be sown far north of any of the Gulf States, since other fodder plants more valuable in producing food can be grown to supply the wants of live stock. At the Minnesota University Experiment Farm, the author sowed seed in May. The plants came into bloom in September, but did not mature any seed. Beggar weed will grow on almost any kind of soil reasonably free from an excess of ground moisture. Its power to grow on poor and light soils, even light enough to lift with the wind, is very considerable. Its highest use will probably be found on soils so light and sterile that better forms of useful vegetation are not easily grown on them. It can scarcely be called a rotation plant, since it more commonly grows in the wild form, and on lands so poor as to be considered unprofitable for regular cropping. But when cultivated, it should be followed by some crop that can make a good use of the nitrogen left in the soil in the tubercles formed on the roots of the beggar weed plants. The soil does not, as a rule, require deep stirring when preparing it for beggar weed. This fact finds demonstration in the ability of the plants to re-seed the ground when grown for grazing. The seed is usually sown in the Gulf States late in March or early in April. It germinates slowly, and the plants make the most vigorous growth after the weather becomes warm. The seed is more commonly scattered broadcast, but may be drilled in, and at distances that will or will not admit of cultivation as may be desired. Thick seeding is preferable to prevent coarseness and woodiness in the growth of the plants. Not less than 10 pounds of hulled seed per acre should be sown in the broadcast form when sown for hay. When sown in drills, less seed is required, but usually the seed is sown broadcast. In the hulled form, in which the seed is more commonly sold, according to Professor H. H. Hume, the measured bushel weighs 60 to 64 pounds, and with the hulls on, from 10 to 40 pounds, the average weight, as purchased by dealers, being about 20 pounds. The cleaned seed bears considerable resemblance to clover seed. All kinds of farm stock, as cattle, horses, mules, sheep and even swine, are said to do well when grazing on beggar-weed pastures in the summer and autumn. They do not usually graze it closely after it has been well started, owing to the woody character of the stems. When thus cropped back, it starts out afresh, and thus continues to produce grazing until the arrival of frost. It is said that the pasture is of but little value in winter. One strong point, however, in favor of such pastures, is the ability of the plants to re-seed the land when not grazed too closely, and thus to perpetuate the grazing from year to year. No little diversity of opinion exists as to the value of this plant for producing hay. Some growers speak highly of its palatability and nutrition. Others speak of it as being of very little value as a hay plant. This difference in opinion is doubtless due largely to cutting the crop at different stages of growth. If allowed to become too advanced before it is cut, the woody character of the hay would doubtless make it unpalatable, whereas, if cut early, at least as early as the showing of the first blooms, if not, indeed, earlier, it would be eaten with a much greater relish. The yields of hay are said to usually exceed 2 tons per acre. The seed matures in September and October. The methods of saving the seed have usually been of a somewhat primitive character, as by hand when saved in small quantities. But there would seem to be no reason why the seed crop could not be harvested by the binder. Where alfalfa or cow peas can be successfully grown, either crop would be preferable. But on some soils these are not a success, especially when the first attempts are made to grow crops. The choice of hay may be one between a crop of beggar weed and no crop at all. All are agreed as to the renovation which it brings to soils; hence, when grown or allowed to grow on unproductive soil for a few years and then plowed under, the soil becomes productive. Since it grows late rather than early in the season where the seed is in the land, it will not interfere with the growth of the corn, but will come on later, and thus exert a beneficial influence on the soil. But the fact should not be overlooked that beggar weed once in the land has considerable power to stay there. In other words, like sweet clover, it has some of the characteristics of a weed.
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