Jenny Harris, of Balclutha Primary School, asks :-

As four-leaf clovers have one more leaf than the standard three-leaf clovers, is there any any research being done on, or advantage in, growing these for pasture?

Derek Woodfield, a clover geneticist with AgResearch Limited, responded.

No. Multifoliolate leaves (i.e. more than the normal three leaflets on trifoliolate leaves of common clovers) have been reported in many legume species including white clover (Trifolium repens), red clover (Trifolium pratense), crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum), soybean (Glycine max) and lucerne (Medicago sativa). The frequency of plants with multifoliolate leaves is normally less than one per cent among commercial cultivars but high levels of multifoliolate leaves have been achieved through breeding.

The expression of multifoliolate leaves has been studied in white clover and it is heritable, however, there is evidence that this trait is maternally inheritance. While four leaflets is the most common multifoliolate form, there is considerable variation in this trait with up to 13 leaflets observed on an individual white clover leaf. Several multifoliolate white clovers have been sold commercially for ornamental use with Chrimson charm and Silver Sprite sold in New Zealand. The multifoliolate trait in white clover generally causes a yield reduction of between 10 and 20 per cent. This yield reduction means that breeding and marketing 4 leaf clovers for NZ grazing systems is not being pursued. Several ornamental 4 leaf white clovers have been bred but these are for home gardens or laminated bookmarks etc.

The situation is somewhat different in Lucerne where several multifoliolate cultivars (commonly referred to as multi-leaf) have been commercially sold particularly in USA. In Lucerne the multi leaf trait can increase the leaf to stem ratio and therefore increase forage quality.