Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii) is an annual native that grows in disturbed, generally spring-moist, heavy soils and occasionally in serpentine soil. This member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae) can be found in the Pacific Coast States, British Columbia, Idaho and New Mexico as well as in Central and South America.
This glabrous (hairless) plant has sprawling to erect stems that arise from a taproot. The palmately compound tomcat clover leaves are alternate with three narrowly lancelike, toothed leaflets. At the base of the leaf petiole (stalk) are conspicuous stipules.
The tomcat clover inflorescence is a head containing 6 to 60 flowers at the terminal end of the stem. The pea-shaped flowers are lavender to purple and white-tipped. The fruit is a pod with two seeds that are grey-brown and often speckled with dark brown.
The leaves, stems and unopened buds of tomcat clover can be eaten raw or steamed. Native Americans also used the seeds for food.
A synonym for T willdenovii is T tridentatum. The genus name is Latin for “three leaved”. Carl Ludwig Willdenow (1765 – 1812), a German botanist and taxonomist, is honored by the species designation. Willdenow is known as the “father of phytogeography” (the study of the geographic distribution of plants) and was the director of the Berlin Botanical Garden from 1801 until his death.
These tomcat clover plants were photographed in May on the Hiouchi Trail next to the Smith River in Redwoods State and National Parks, Del Norte County CA.