Thursday, January 24, 2013

The star clover - a plant with a striking formation

The star clover is a smll spring-flowering plant often found in cultivated land and stony rock ground. It has small innocuous pale pink flowers which aftr fertilisation are transformed into a striking structure consisting of a red star formed from the flowers’ sepals which become enlarged and behind which is hidden the seedpod.

This species, known in Maltese as xnien ta’ l-istilla, is found throughout the Mediterranean. It is one of about three hundred species of plants members of the genus known as trefoils or more popularly clovers. A good number of these species are found in the Maltese islands. A characteristic of this group of plants is that they have trifoliate leaves (three leaflets), hence their name although rarely the leaves are 5 or 7-foliate. 

Trefoils are members of the pea family. They are found throughout the world but they are more common in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Many are used as food plants by the larvae of some butterflies and moths one of which is the clouded yellow (farfett tas-silla) one of the most striking butterflies in the Maltese islands.

Clovers are important as a source of nectar for bees. They are a valuable survival food, as they are high in protein, widespread, and abundant. They are not easy to digest raw, but this can be easily fixed by juicing them or boiling them for 5 to10 minutes. Dried flowerheads and seedpods can also be ground up into a nutritious flour and mixed with other foods. Dried flowerheads can also be steeped in hot water for a healthy, tasty tea.

This article was published in The Times on 8 April 2009.

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