Most clovers (Trifolium sp.) prefer moist or disturbed areas. Largehead clover (Trifolium macrocephalum) is unusual because it grows in thin rocky soil that dries out over the summer. A second way in which largehead clover differs from most other clovers is in the number of leaflets composing the palmately divided leaf. As the genus name suggests, clovers generally have three leaflets. Trifolium means “three leaves” in Latin. Largehead clover has five to six leaflets and as many as nine.
A member of the pea family, largehead clover is a native perennial found in the Great Basin area of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Nevada. It is also colloquially called giants-head clover and big headed clover.
This sprawling, hairy plant spreads via rhizomes and grows between three to eight inches in height. The pink to lavender, or bi-colored, pea-like flowers are densely clustered into an egg shaped inflorescence at the tip of the stem. A single inflorescence, which can be up to three inches in diameter, occurs on each stem. The sepals narrow into bristles coated with hairs.
Largehead clover, like all legumes, fixes nitrogen in the soil, however, there are usually insufficient plants in an area to significantly affect nitrogen levels.
Coarse and difficult to digest, largehead clover can nevertheless be eaten raw and is high in protein. Soaking in salt water for several hours or cooking makes this clover more palatable. I have never been inspired to eat this hairy plant.
Although many other members of the Trifolium genus are used medicinally, largehead clover does not appear to be used for any such purposes.
Macrocephalum, the species name, is Latin for “big head”.
These largehead clover plants were photographed along the gravel road connecting Adin CA to Madeline CA (Lassen County).