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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