Scientific name(s)
Plant description
Pasture type and use
Where it grows
Animal production
Further information
Author and date
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Subterranean/Sub clover (ssp. subterraneum)

Scientific name(s)

Trifolium subterraneum ssp. subterraneum



Plant description

A prostrate self-regenerating annual pasture legume tolerant of heavy grazing that grows from autumn through to spring and buries its burrs.

Pasture type and use

Suited to permanent and semi-permanent pastures and to crop rotations (with at least 2 years between crops). The subspecies subterraneum is best suited to well drained acid soils, with the other subspecies, yanninicum and brachycalycinum, being suited to waterlogged acid and cracking neutral-alkaline soils, respectively

Where it grows


Adapted to winter-dominant rainfall area of southern Australia with annual rainfall 275 -1200 mm. Early flowering varieties suited to lower rainfall zone, later flowering varieties suited to higher rainfall zone. Can also be grown under irrigation.


Prefers well-drained sandy loams to clay loams of moderate acidity (pHCaCl 4.5-6.5).


Widely adapted to the agricultural areas of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and parts of south-east Queensland with sufficient winter rainfall. Good frost tolerance.


Companion species

A range of perennial and annual grasses, lucerne, yellow and French serradella, biserrula, rose clover, arrowleaf clover, purple clover and burr medics, depending on soil type. On paddocks with patches prone to waterlogging it can also be sown with balansa clover, gland clover, Persian clover and subterranean clover ssp. yanninicum.

Sowing/planting rates as single species

5-15 kg/ha.

Sowing/planting rates in mixtures

3-8 kg/ha, depending on the number of mixture components.

Sowing time

Sow April-June, into moist soil following good weed control. Shallow sowing (<40 mm) is essential.


Commercial Group C (subterranean clover). Granular clay inoculants can also be used. Subterranean clover fixes about 25 kg of N per tonne of herbage dry matter. As a result it can increase soil nitrogen by about 125-200 kg of N/ha/yr.


Phosphorus (with potassium on deficient soils) at sowing – levels dependent on soil tests. Trace elements (Cu, Mo, Zn) may be required on very infertile soils.


Maintenance fertliser

Annual applications of superphosphate (with potassium or sulphur on deficient soils) are required to achieve maximum productivity. Levels are dependent on soil tests.


Thrives under set stocking and can be grazed moderately hard while flowering. Likely to be shaded out by more erect plants under lax grazing. Can be cut for hay.

Seed production

Requires vacuum harvesting. Seed yields of up to 1000 kg/ha can be achieved under ideal conditions. Burr burial protects the seed from being eaten by grazing animals.

Ability to spread

Slow spread from site of sowing. Can spread by burrs attaching to wool.

Weed potential

Its slow rate of spread, its preference for moderate-high fertility soils and specific rhizobia requirement gives it low potential as an environmental weed. It is readily controlled by a range of broadleaf herbicides within crop.

Major pests

Redlegged earth mite is a major pest, particularly at plant establishment, where it can kill emerging seedlings, but also causes damage in spring. Timerite® has proved an effective means of control. Lucerne flea and blue green aphids can also cause damage in spring. Refer to chemical labels for suitability and recommended rates for insecticides.

Major diseases

Some cultivars are susceptible to the foliar disease clover scorch (Kabatiella caulivora), found in high rainfall, humid areas. Other foliar diseases in higher rainfall areas include leaf rust (Uromyces trifolii-repentis), powdery mildew (Erysiphe polygonii) and cercospora leafspot (Cercospora zebrina).
Several root rots can attack subterranean clover, causing most damage to emerging seedlings and young plants. They include Phytophthora clandestina, Fusarium avanaceum, Pythium irregulare and Rhizoctonia solanii.

Herbicide susceptibility

Refer to chemical labels for suitability and recommended rates for herbicides registered for use on subterranean clover.

Animal production

Feeding value

Excellent as green feed with in vitro digestibility in the order of 70% and crude protein over 20% until mid-flowering. Quality reduces once plants hay off. Dry herbage feeding value over summer is less than maintenance value (often < 50% in vitro digestibility) although animals may be able to obtain sufficient energy and protein by digging up seed burrs.


Readily consumed by livestock, either as green or dry feed.

Production potential

Vigorous seedlings provide good early season production. Later flowering varieties are capable of more than 10 t/ha annual production in long-season environments or under irrigation. Herbage production of 4-6 tonnes/ha is achievable in low to medium rainfall environments.

Livestock disorders/toxicity

Some older varieties of subterranean clover contain high levels of phyto-oestrogens, which can affect the sheep reproductive system. The most active isoflavone is formononetin, which can cause a decline in ewe fertility. Two other isoflavones, genistein and biochanin A, are also present in all subterranean clover varieties, but these have less impact. If ewes are mated when they are grazing green, potent subterranean clover their reproductive performance can be temporarily impaired. Continued exposure
over several years to high levels of formononetin can lead to permanent infertility. Ram fertility is not affected.

Formononetin is present in subterranean clover only while the pasture is green. However, hay produced from oestrogenic varieties can be almost as potent as green pastures. Formononetin levels drop away during late flowering. Generally, dry subterranean clover pastures that result from normal haying-off are not oestrogenic. However, if there is a very early finish to the season, it is possible for oestrogenic varieties to retain some potency in the dry state. All recently released varieties have low formononetin levels. There have been isolated reports of cattle bloat on very clover-dominant subterranean clover pastures.


Group Cultivar Seed source/Information
early maturing Dalkeith Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Dalsa Seed Distributors
AusWest Seeds
  Izmir Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Losa AusWest Seeds
  Urana Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
AusWest Seeds
  Daliak (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Dwalganup (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Geraldton (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Northam (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Nungarin (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
mid-season maturing Campeda Seedmark
  Coolamon Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Guide to Australian Pasture Legumes
  York Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Dinninup (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Enfield (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Esperance (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Junee (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Seaton Park (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Woogenellup (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
late maturing Denmark Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Guide to Australian Pasture Legumes
  Goulburn Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Guide to Australian Pasture Legumes
AusWest Seeds
  Leura Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Bacchus Marsh (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Karridale (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Mount Barker (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Tallarook (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars

 Denotes that this variety is protected by Plant Breeder's Rights Australia

Further information$FILE/Species%20for%20Profit%20Book_Web.pdf

Registered cultivars of subterranean clover - their characteristics, origin and identification (1996).  Agriculture Western Australia Bulletin No. 4327, pp. 61.

Pasture Legumes for Temperate Farming Systems – The Ute Guide, Top Crop Australia. (2004). (Primary Industries and Resources South Australia/ Grains Research and Development Corporation), pp. 147.












Fungal diseases of pasture legumes in Western Australia (1989). Department of Agriculture, Western Australia, Bulletin No. 4133.$FILE/AG0725.pdf$FILE/AG0724.pdf


Hayley Norman, CSIRO, for comments on feeding value.

Author and date

Phil Nichols (DAFWA) and Brian Dear (NSW DPI)

July 2007