Alysicarpus vaginalis

alyce clover - prostrate


Alysicarpus vaginalis

(L.) DC 1825

pronounced: al-liss-ee-KAR-puss vah-jin-AH-liss

(Fabaceae — the hibiscus family)

subfamily: Faboideae - the bean subfamily


common names: alyce clover, one-leaf clover

Alysicarpus is derived from the Greek 'αλυσις (halysis), a chain, and καρπος (karpos), fruit; vaginalis is from the Latin vagina, a covering, sheath. Unlike many other clovers, the Alyce Clover has a unifoliate leaf, rather than trifoliate (hence ‘one-leaf’).

This is a low-growing annual (or, in wetter areas, behaving like a perennial), extremely variable in habit, leaf shape and flower colour. This is very evident from the plants observed on Magnetic Island in the wet season of 2010. The first ones to appear, mostly in or on the edges of garden beds, and often spreading on to bare earth or bitumen where there was no competition from other plants, were small-leafed, prostrate in habit, with short internodes that were covered by the stipules.

Later in the wet season, when the clover began to appear on the grass verges of the roads, the plants had to compete with grasses, and adopted a much more erect form as they grew upwards to reach the sunlight. The leaves became bigger, the internodes longer, and these were no longer covered by the stipules. The plants could almost have been taken for different species. The stems are numerous, 10 – 100 cm long, coming from the rootstock, variable in hairiness, moderately branched and leafy, with single simple oval-shaped leaves on a short petiole, with prominent pointed stipules. The leaves are 5 – 65 by 3 – 25 mm, but are generally about 10 by 20 mm.

The flowers are about 6 mm long, reddish yellow or pale purple, borne in racemes up to 13 cm long, usually 6 – 12 flowers on each raceme.

The seed pods are cylindric, jointed, about 2 cm long, 5 – 7 seeded. The seeds are pale brown in colour, ovoid, about 1.5 mm long.

Alyce Clover, widely naturalized pan-tropically, is an excellent component of natural pastures, being as palatable and almost as nutritious (15% protein) as lucerne (Medicago sativa). It is well-eaten by both cattle and horses, and is reported as not causing bloat in cattle, presumably due to condensed tannin in the forage. It is very tolerant of continuous heavy grazing and regular mowing. Under grazing conditions, the plants change from the erect form of growth to a small, flattened rosette. Where it is grown as a hay crop (mainly in the USA), it dries rapidly and can be baled one day after cutting, and usually yields 4 – 6 tonnes of hay per hectare.

There is a good deal of this clover growing on the verges of the Picnic to Nelly Bay road. Where the verges are infrequently cut, it can grow almost waist-high when surrounded by tall grasses.


Photographs taken 2010, Picnic Bay, & Picnic Bay to Nelly Bay roadside
Page last updated 6th October 2018