Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a variety of clover and is a familiar sight in British meadows. Like its cousin, White Clover, Red Clover is often cultivated for fodder and re-grows very quickly after being cut. It is all things to all creatures; food for livestock, food for pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies and a natural soil fertiliser (as a legume), since it fixes nitrogen in the air, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers. Red Clover is also edible in that it can be used to make a herbal tea. In traditional medicine it is used as a sedative and to soothe skin complaints, and is also used as an anti-inflammatory.
Although the common White Clover has a short stalk and much shorter leaves, the red clover has quite a tall stem and nestles neatly between narrow leaves. These leaves are not like the leaves commonly associated with clovers (three almost circular leaves grouped together or, if you are very lucky, four) and are instead rather more elongated and pointed at the tips. It grows to between 20 and 80cm in height and is a herbaceous perennial. Although described as a red wild flower, the Red Clover is more often a purple-red or pink wildflower, with its petals pointed upwards to the apex of an oval-shaped head.
Beekeepers are fond of Red Clover since it is a major source of nectar for honeybees as well as bumblebees.
A native species in Britain and Europe, the Red Clover has been in decline in recent years, probably because of the decline in bumblebee and honeybee numbers. The bumblebee is its most frequent visitor but for various possible reasons (from an increase in intensive farming to a virus) the bee population has been dropping steadily.
It is for this reason that it is so important that gardeners are being encouraged to make space in their land for wildflowers that encourage pollinators. The RHS perfect for pollinators list includes Red Clover as a species that will aid in the quest to increase or at least preserve numbers of bees and butterflies in Britain. For maximum impact, these should be planted together with a wide range of other wildflowers to encourage as many species as possible to visit our gardens. It is possible to buy pre-planted rolls of meadow turf from meadowmat, to lay in your garden for quick and easy growth of vital wildflowers.