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. yanninicum)

Scientific name(s)

Trifolium subterraneum ssp. yanninicum



Plant description

A prostrate self-regenerating annual pasture legume tolerant of waterlogging and 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 where cropping is infrequent. Other subspecies (subterraneum and brachycalycinum) are better suited to soils not prone to waterlogging.

Where it grows


Adapted to winter-dominant rainfall area of southern Australia with annual rainfall 425 -1200 mm. Midseason varieties suited to medium rainfall zone, later flowering varieties suited to higher rainfall zone. Can also be grown under irrigation.


Prefers sandy loams to clays of moderate acidity (pHCaCl 4.5-6.5) and good waterholding capacity. Highly tolerant of winter waterlogging.


Widely adapted to the agricultural areas of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. Good frost tolerance.


Companion species

A range of perennial and annual grasses, balansa clover, gland clover, Persian clover, purple clover, burr medic. On paddocks with patches of well-drained soils it can also be sown with subterranean clover ssp. subterraneum (black-seeded subclover) and lucerne.

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. Can biologically fix 25 kg nitrogen/tonne of herbage dry matter.


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 from 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 capable of more than 10 t/ha annual production in long-season 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
mid-season maturing Gosse Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
South Australia PIR - Fact sheet 36/00
Guide to Australian Pasture Legumes
  Riverina Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Guide to Australian Pasture Legumes
Premier Seeds
  Trikkala (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Yarloop (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
late maturing Napier Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
NSW Agriculture Agnote
  Larisa (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
  Meteora (older) Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars

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

Further information

General information
NSW Dept of Primary Industries - Agnote DPI-268 
Qld Dept of Primary Industries and Fisheries - Sub coler for granite and traprock soils
Species for Profit: A guide for Tasmanian Pastures and Field Crops 

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.

WA Department of Agriculture and Food - Farmnote 41/2005
Victoria Department of Primary Industries Agriculture Notes - AG0737

Fungal diseases of pasture legumes in Western Australia (1989). Department of Agriculture, Western Australia, Bulletin No. 4133.

WA Department of Agriculture and Food - Farmnote 207  
WA Department of Agriculture and Food - Farmnote 68/1991
Victoria Department of Primary Industries: Agriculture Notes - AG0725 
Victoria Department of Primary Industries: Agriculture Notes - AG0724


Hayley Norman, CSIRO, for comments on feeding value.

Author and date

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

July 2007