Melilotus officinalis (Yellow Sweet Clover)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:annual, biennial
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
Habitat:part shade, sun; open fields, along roads
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:2 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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 6 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 yellow 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 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 ridged or grooved, mostly hairless and green or tinged red.


Yellow Sweet Clover was brought to North America as a forage crop and quickly escaped cultivation. It invades roadsides, fields, and generally anywhere soil is disturbed and can invade high grade prairie. It likes fire and can erupt in an explosion of growth following a burn. White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba) was once classified as a separate species (Melilotus albus), then lumped in with Yellow Sweet Clover, and is back to a separate species again. Yellow Sweet Cover 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.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


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

Posted by: randy - St Paul
on: 2008-06-18 22:43:22

This grows in St. Paul along the railroad tracks. I guess it must grow lots of places to be a noxious weed. However you should mention that when it is mowed it has a heavenly scent.

Posted by: Cara - North Shore of Lake Superior
on: 2012-06-04 20:48:12

Bummed. I bought sweet clover to grow for my honey bees and was looking into how tall it gets and also found out it's considered an invasive species here in Minnesota! So now what do I do with 7# of sweet clover?! :( See if the place I bought it will take it back I guess...

Posted by: Shauni M Mulder - Red Lake Falls
on: 2018-08-16 05:11:49

My dad actually has a picture of me and my brother in front of our pasture out in Goodridge, MN that had become completely infested with them. They towered over us both. The smell is nostalgic. I have seen plenty of them in Red Lake Falls along the trails as well as taking over the roadside entering town.

Posted by: Jessica B - Polk County, MN, 5 miles west of Fosston
on: 2023-06-29 23:36:00

Found a single plant in grassy/weedy area between barn and cultivated field. In bloom today. Root is one single taproot with very few hair-like small roots coming off. Easy to pull out, ground fairly dry.

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