Trifolium stoloniferum

Common Names:
running buffalo clover
Muhl. ex Eat.
Growth Habit:
CPC Number:
Profile Contributors:
Kimberlie McCue, Ph.D.
Fully Sponsored

Reference Links

ITIS - Tropicos - USDA Plants - Fish & WildLife

Participating Institutions

The following Participating Institutions are custodians for this species in the CPC National Collection:
The Holden Arboretum
Missouri Botanical Garden
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

The conservation of Trifolium stoloniferum is fully sponsored.
Kimberlie McCue, Ph.D. contributed to this Plant Profile.


From 1940 until 1985, running buffalo clover was thought to be extinct. Then two populations were rediscovered in West Virginia. Since that initial rediscovery, a number of populations have been found in five of the eight states of this species' original distribution.

A story of the re-discovery of this plant in the state of Missouri is particularly interesting. In 1989, this species was still considered extirpated from the state of Missouri: the plant could not be found at any of its historical locations. The Missouri Department of Conservation began to consider re-introduction of the species to some of the historical locations.

In 1990, a botanist working for the Missouri Department of Conservation had a load of topsoil delivered to his house to use for gardening. Before he was able to spread the soil, seeds in the topsoil began to germinate, and he allowed them to grow into identifiable plants. To his, and everyone's, amazement, several plants of running buffalo clover appeared there. The source area of that topsoil delivery was searched, but no plants were found. However, these newly discovered plants were propagated and used in Missouri re-introduction efforts.
In 1994, a naturally-occurring population of this species was discovered on private land in SE Missouri. This was the first natural site of the population known to exist in the state since 1907, except for the plants found in the 1990 load of topsoil. Genetic testing showed that plants from the 1994-discovered site and plants from the 1990 load of topsoil were genetically similar to each other, as well as genetically distinct from plants in other states. This was a great discovery and re-introductions continue in that state, using plants from Missouri stock.

This clover is similar to other native and introduced clovers in the Midwest. It does have distinguishing characteristics, though, not the least of which give the plant both its scientific and common name. The scientific name Trifolium (three leaves) stoloniferum (having stolons) is very descriptive in and of itself. The common name of RUNNING BUFFALO CLOVER came from the fact that stolons, or RUNNERS, extend from the base of this plant's stems. These runners are able to root and expand the size of an originally small clump of clover into one or more larger ones. This plant is thought to have been more widespread before the loss of bison from its habitat. Bison are thought to have played a role in maintaining the open habitat that this species requires for survival.

Flowers appear on a stem with a pair of leaflets (unique to this species), and are white tinged with purple. These flowers appear from May through July. The three leaflets of the clover lack the arrow-shaped "watermarks" that are typical of other clovers. (West Virginia Department of Natural Resources 1998)

Distribution & Occurrence


Conservation, Ecology & Research