Sweet clover is so named from the sweet odor which emanates from the
living plants. It is of two species. These are designated, respectively,
Melilotus alba and Melilotus officinalis. The former is also called
Bokhara clover, White Melilot and Tree clover. It is
possibly more widely known by the name Bokhara than by any other designation. The latter is sometimes called Yellow clover. The difference between these in appearance and habits of growth does not seem to be very marked, except that the blossoms of the former are white and those of the latter are yellow. Sweet clover is upright and branched in its habit of growth. It attains to a height of from 2 to 8 feet, according to the soil in which the plants grow. The somewhat small and truncate leaves are not so numerous, relatively, as with some other varieties of clover, and the stems are woody in character, especially as they grow older. The blossoms are small and white or yellow, according to the variety, and the seed pods are black when ripe. The roots are large and more or less branched, and go down to a great depth in the soil; especially is this true of the main, or tap root. The plants, according to Beale, are annual or biennial, but more commonly they are biennial. They do not usually blossom the year that they are sown, but may blossom within a year from the date of sowing. For instance, when sown in the early autumn, they may bloom the following summer. They are exceedingly hardy, having much power to endure extremes of heat and cold, and to grow in poor soils and under adverse conditions. In some soils they take possession of road sides and vacant lands, and continue to grow in these for successive years. The impaction of such soils by stock treading on them seems rather to advance than to hinder the growth. They start growing early in the spring and grow quickly, especially the second year. They come into bloom in June, early or later, according to the latitude, and ordinarily only in the year following that in which they were sown. Because of the fragrant odor which is emitted from the plants as they grow, they are sometimes introduced into gardens and ornamental grounds. The uses of the plants are at least three. It has some value as a food for live stock. It has much value as a fertilizer. It has probably even more value as a food for bees. It has also been used in binding soils. Its value as a food for stock has probably been overestimated. It is bitter, notwithstanding the fragrant odor that emanates from it; hence, it is not relished by stock, insomuch that they will not eat it when they can get other food that is more palatable. As hay, it is hard to cure and of doubtful palatability when cured. As a fertilizer, its value does not seem to have been sufficiently recognized, and the same is probably true of it as bee pasture, although many bee-keepers are alive to its great merit for such a use. This plant does not seem to find much favor with many. The United States Department of Agriculture has spoken of it as a weedy biennial, concerning which extravagant claims have been made. The laws of some States proscribe it as a weed, and impose penalties directed against any who allow it to grow. Legislatures should be slow to class a legume as a weed, especially one that has much power to enrich soils. The author cherishes the opinion that this plant has a mission in the economy of agriculture and of considerable importance to farmers, especially in soils that are poor and worn, as soon as they come to understand it properly.
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