Running Buffalo Clover

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Running Buffalo Clover

Trifolium stoloniferum

ListedJune 5, 1987
FamilyLeguminosae (Fabaceae)
DescriptionPerennial with compound leaves and white flowers.
HabitatOpen forests and prairies.
ThreatsLow numbers.
RangeIndiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia


Running buffalo clover, Trifolium stoloniferum, is a short-lived perennial that propagates from long runners at the base of the plant. Leaves are compound with three leaflets. Heads of small white flowers, tinged with purple, are produced at the ends of ascending stems. Flowering normally occurs from mid-April to June, and seed heads are present into July. Running buffalo clover is similar in appearance to the native buffalo clover T. reflexum.


Running buffalo clover was apparently adapted to rich soils in relatively stable forest and prairie clearings. Botanists speculate that these open areas were probably maintained by grazing buffalo herds that once migrated along established trails. After the extirpation of the buffalo from the East, the abundance of T. stoloniferum apparently decreased. A few populations survived in farm pastures and meadows.


This clover was apparently once widespread throughout much of the midwestern United States in a belt that stretched from Kansas across the Ohio River Valley to West Virginia. The original extent of the range is difficult to determine, however, because the character of the native ground cover was already greatly altered by settlement before the species was described.

In 1983 and 1984, only two populations of running buffalo clover were known, both in West Virginia. One small population found at the margin of a mowed field has since died off, except for a single plant. A second population, along an off-road-vehicle trail adjacent to the New River in Fayette County, consisted of 18 plants in the fall of 1985.

By August, 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had discovered seven additional populations of the plant in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. In June and July 1990, five new populations were found in West Virginia along old roads on ridges or sides of mountains in Randolph County. And in 1994, it was announced that significant new populations had been located and protected in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia. In the summer of 1995, botanists located another three new populationstwo populations in Randolph County (both with several large sub-populations) and the third in Pocahontas County. That same summer, a new site was confirmed in Lawrence County, Ohio.

The new population discoveries in the past decade are a good example of how federal listing has spurred survey and research efforts for little-known species. Populations are now known from four counties in southwestern Ohio (Clermont, Hamilton, Lawrence and Warren), two counties in southeastern Indiana (Ohio and Switzerland), and two counties in northern Kentucky (Boone and Gallatin), along with the Monongahela (West Virginia) populations.


Low numbers, resulting in decreased genetic energy is the greatest threat to running buffalo clover, but the discovery of new populations diminishes the immediate threat of extinction.

Conservation and Recovery

In 1987, in response to the looming extinction of the last surviving West Virginia plants, the landowner barricaded an access road and removed livestock from the site, showing his commitment to its preservation. As an emergency measure, state naturalists sent cuttings to the University of Kentucky and West Virginia University greenhouses for propagation. These efforts were successful, and botanists were poised to attempt transplantation when the new populations were discovered.

Finding these additional populations, dispersed over such a wide area, has allowed botanists to relax somewhat and proceed more methodically. The draft recovery plan calls for additional population surveys and suggests that the species could be considered for reclassification when 30 stable, self-sustaining populations have been discovered or established. Surveys, sponsored by state natural heritage programs, are currently underway.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1 Federal Drive
BHW Federal Building,
Fort Snelling, Minnesota 55111
Telephone: (612) 713-5360

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345


Bartsis, R. 1985. "Rediscovery of Trifolium stoloniferum Muhlex A. Eaton." Rhodora 87: 425-429.

Brooks, R. E. 1985. "Trifolium stoloniforum, Running Buffalo Clover: Description, Distribution and Current Status." Rhodora 85:343-354.