Foiled by trefoils

Often described as a ‘lawn weed’, Black Medick (Medicago lupulina) is part of the clover family, with a trefoil of slightly pointed oval leaflets, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers at this time of year. I have noticed it growing amongst mown grass here, and thought I should photograph it to add to my ‘Wildflowers’ log. When I came in to examine my photographs, I was slightly perplexed to discover that what I had photographed appeared to be two very similar, but clearly different, plants.

Black Medick, as I mentioned, has ovate leaves with a small point on the end, which are plain green, very slightly hairy, and with the centre leaf of the leaflet growing on a slightly longer stalk than the other two. The flowers are tiny yellow clover-like flowers, in clusters of probably 20 or more, making a little bobble of about 0.5-1 cm diameter.

Black Medick

Black Medick (Medicago lupulina)

The other plant that I had photographed had almost identical flowers, except that there were only 2-5 flowers in any one cluster. The other notable difference was the leaves, which ended in more of a dip than a point, and had a distinctive brown/black V marking in the centre of them. The leaves had the same formation, with the centre leaflet on a longer petiole (stalk) – around 3mm long – but they were not hairy.

Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica)

So, it was back to the drawing-board, these days known as Google. It is amazing how little comes up for ‘clover-like leaves with dark V marking’ or similar searches. However, I finally found this clear little illustration that explains everything. What I had was Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica).

Black and Spotted Medick illustration

Top – Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica syn. Medicago maculata Willdenow). Bottom – Black Medick (Medicago lupulina).

Having spent so long looking at clover-like leaves growing in the lawn, I then thought I should photograph some of the beautiful large flowers of Red Clover that I keep seeing in the verges. Once again this highlighted how unobservant I had been, as I realised that clover leaves are not really the shape I think they are, ie. the classic shamrock shaped trefoil, like Spotted Medick leaves. They are in fact trefoils of oval leaves, longer, thinner and more pointed than Black Medick leaves. For a moment I thought I was mistaken in calling this clover, thinking maybe I had found yet another similar-but-different species, but no – I just need to learn to be more observant.

Red Clover leaves

Red Clover leaves