Melilotus alba (White Sweet Clover)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Melilotus
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:annual, biennial
Origin:Eurasia
Status:
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
Habitat:sun; open fields, roadsides, woodland edges, disturbed soil
Bloom season:June - October
Plant height:2 to 8 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Flowers are clustered in spike-like racemes up to 8 inches long on branching stems, arising from leaf axils, and at the top of the plant. Individual flowers are about ¼ inch long, with 5 parts in a typical shape for a member of the Pea family. Large plants can take on a bushy appearance with numerous clusters of white flowers. Small plants may have only a few sparsely arranged branches.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in groups of 3 on a stalk about 1 inch long. Leaflets are ½ to 1 inch long, ¼ to ½ inch across, with small teeth around the edges, a rounded or flattened tip and short slender stalk. The shape can be oval or elliptical, or tapering to a narrow base with the widest point in the tip half of the leaflet. The color may be somewhat blue-green or gray-green. Stems are smooth and may be ridged or grooved, mostly hairless and green or sometimes tinged red.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a small oval pod, with a bit of the style persisting at the tip (beaked), containing 1 or 2 seeds.

[photo of seed] Seed is a smooth oval bean about 2 millimeters long that ripens to brown.

Notes:

Like the closely related Yellow Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalis), White Sweet Clover was brought to North America as a forage crop and quickly escaped cultivation. It invades roadsides, fields and disturbed soil but also encroaches on high grade habitat and can have explosive growth following fire disturbance. Yellow Sweet Clover starts blooming a couple weeks earlier than White and is a slightly smaller plant, but except for the flower color and some other more subtle differences is otherwise nearly identical. White Sweet Clover also goes by Latin name Melilotus albus.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at various locations in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at various locations around Minnesota.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Carey - Minneapolis
on: 2014-07-08 21:55:43

I have one tall volunteer in my garden near my pond. It is beautiful--but should I pull it?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-07-09 07:07:45

Carey, it may be but one plant now, but can turn into a whole yard full, then run into your neighbor's yard, the roadside (which will allow it to spread even further from car and bike tires, dog walkers, and pedestrian footwear) and by critters, wind and rain. People think one little plant in their yard can't hurt but that is not true. I'd yank it before it has a chance to set any seed. Plant a native in its place!

Posted by: Jill - Faribault
on: 2014-07-20 20:39:07

We are being overrun by this invasive at River Bend Nature Center this year! I'm noticing an especially large amount of them in places that we burned last year. Could they have taken advantage of the burn to spread their seed? They have reached hedgerow proportions in many spots! I don't remember it being quite that bad in years past.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-07-21 04:14:19

Unfortunately, sweet clover is known to respond to fire in exactly the way you describe, Jill.

Posted by: Heather - Morris (Stevens Co)
on: 2014-07-21 17:37:39

It is very fragrant, right? The wetland where I work was burned last year, and is now covered in this stuff. It really spread this last week or so.

Posted by: Sarah - Anoka
on: 2015-08-25 23:29:17

Once you pull the weeds, how do you dispose of them? I'm guessing you wouldn't want to put them in your compost pile, and if burning encourages growth what can you do to kill the seed? Is there a good general disposal (after removal) method for most invasives?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-08-26 06:46:45

Sarah, unfortunately there are no good options to the average landowner for disposal of weeds. See MDA's Guide to Removal and Disposal of Weeds.

Posted by: Diane - New Hope
on: 2017-08-27 11:18:40

This invasive weed is easier to pull in its first year of growth when it's not grown more than a foot high. Better to pull it as soon as you see it. Seeds seem to be brought in during construction.

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