Trifolium alexandrinum L.

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Author: J.M. Suttie (1999)

Common names

Egyptian clover, Berseem ("berseem" is used for similar leguminous forages in some Arabic speaking countries - "berseem Hedjazi" is lucerne)


A sparingly hairy annual 30 – 60 cm in height; stems erect or ascending, branching from the base or above. Leaves, all except the uppermost, alternate; adnate parts of stipules oblong, membranous with green nerves; free portion as long as or shorter than the lower part. leaflets 1.5 – 3.5 (-5) x 0.6 x 1.5 cm. oblong-elliptical to oblong-lanceolate, tapering at both ends, mucronate at apex, denticulate in upper part. Heads terminal, axillary, pedunculate 1.5 – 2 x 1.5 – 2 cm, conical to ovoid, often with a few bracts forming a minute involucre at the base of the head. Flowers 0.8 – 1.3 cm; calyx tube obconical to campanulate with ten prominent nerves; corolla cream coloured 1.5 – 2 times as long as calyx; standard considerably longer than wings. Fruiting head 1.5 – 2.5 x 1 – 1.5 cm, not disarticulating at maturity; pods 2 – 2.2 x 1.4 – 1.9 cm; seeds solitary 1.4 x 1.9 mm.

Berseem is entomophilous cross-pollinated. Plant studies on pollination in c.v. Miskawi and Fahl in Egypt showed that the percentage of cross pollination was about 82% in the presence of honeybees (Apis mellifera). Seed set was 51.9% under uncaged conditions, 0.96% under caged conditions and 17.1% under caged conditions with hand pollination (Bakheit 1989).

In trials in India (Dixit, Singh & Gupta 1988) T. alexandrinum was predominantly self-pollinated but requires tripping to improve seed set. In a field trial with a diploid strain, there were 21.81, 58.60, 61.12 and 59.80 inflorescences/m2 in completely and partly caged plots, those with the frame of the cage only and the controls, respectively. Corresponding seed yields were 0.52, 11.12, 22.38 and 21.29 g/m2. In a further trial, 3 diploid and 5 tetraploid strains were cut 1, 2 or 3 times before being left for seed production. Flowers were tripped or untripped and bagged or left open. Seed setting percentage ranged from 15.44% in bagged untripped plots cut 3 times to 45.80% in open tripped plots cut once. In bagged tripped or open plots diploid strains showed 40.86-48.19% seed set, compared with 33.20-37.34% for tetraploids.


Berseem is of ancient cultivation in Egypt where it is a major winter crop; from there it was introduced to Sindh in the early years of the twentieth century where it proved so well adapted to the conditions and farming systems of the irrigated tracts of the sub-continent and spread rapidly throughout northern India (Roberts & Singh 1951). It is now the major rabi season fodder and cultivated on millions of hectares: this is probably the most rapid spread of a fodder in recent times and is all the more notable for being mainly under smallholder conditions. It is grown in the USA and, as both a winter and summer crop, in parts of southern Europe.


Most cultivars only stand light frosts. According to Fairbrother (1991) the usual limit in the USA is a minimum winter temperature of -6 C apart from the cultivar ‘Bigbee’ (Knight 1985) which was selected from the Italian ‘Sacramonte’ and will survive winters down to 15 - 18 C.


It will grow on a wide range of soils, preferring heavy loams, provided that they are not waterlogged. It is tolerant of relatively high salt concentrations but not nearly as hardy as T. resupinatum.


A cultivated clover, mainly of irrigated, sub-tropical lands. In its traditional area it is cultivated from about 35o N to the tropic as a winter crop. In the NW Himalaya berseem can be grown as a winter crop up to about 1500 m altitude although it may suffer a little frost burn (c.v. s ‘Agaithi’ and ‘Pachaiti’). 

Crop management

It is mainly grown in arable rotations for green feed for stall-fed stock, mainly cattle and milch buffaloes; it is valued as a fertility-building crop. It is commonly integrated into rice-wheat cropping systems as a winter and spring feed; it may be seded into rice before the harvest of the cereal. Some is now grown as an annual or catch-crop fodder on large scale farms, usually rain-fed; the season depending on the climate.

In its main areas berseem is sown in autumn, preferably early and establishes very rapidly; under irrigated conditions it gives four to seven or more cuts before flowering and dying off around May. Under irrigated conditions in Punjab sowing is from late August to early November; the land is ploughed two or three times and planked to give a firm level seedbed. Phosphatic fertiliser should be incorporated at 125 kg/ha P2O5. An irrigation is given immediately prior to seeding. Twenty to twenty-five kilograms of seed are used per hectare. The seed is soaked over-night and sown (often mixed with sand to aid even distribution) broadcast into shallow standing water. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a very common contaminant of berseem seed and may be removed by flotation at the time of seed soaking. If a nurse crop is used (e.g. oats) then that should be drilled in before irrigating and sowing the berseem. Only light seed rates of oats - 20 - 30 kg - should be used. Sometimes sarson (Brassica juncea) is mixed with berseem to give bulk in the early cut but, unless very low seed rates are used it depresses clover growth and reduces the overall yield since it does not persist into the later cuts; sarson is a favourite vegetable in the berseem-growing areas. Turnips are also mixed with berseem. Italian ryegrass has frequently proved excellent in trials but seed supply is a problem for smallholders. Much berseem is grown from local landraces of the Mescawi type but many improved cultivars are available although seed production often lags behind research. In Pakistan ‘Agaithi’ and ‘Pachaiti’ are recommended. In Egypt the recommended seed rates are higher than those used in India and Pakistan. It can be sown into standing rice at the last irrigation but, unless the rice is very thin, only limited success is likely. Sometimes, when speed is more important than good husbandry, berseem is sown into rice stubble without further land preparation; yields are, of course, lower but when the last sowing date is approaching this assures some spring feed at minimal labour input. In more northerly areas or higher altitudes, cool-season crops must be sown early. Where the crop is traditional, seed is usually available in the markets, often contaminated with chicory, shaftal and melilotus; farmers often sell seed they do not need, or want, themselves. Berseem seed is easy to clean and good commercial samples are usually available; Egypt is the main source in international trade; recently the quality and availability of berseem seed in India and Pakistan has improved markedly.

In its traditional areas : ten to fifteen irrigations are required for fodder and about eighteen for seed production; very early sowings must be irrigated weekly at the initial stages, thereafter according to need. The first cut can be taken after fifty to sixty days if sown early in the season, the interval is greater in a late-sown crop. Cutting thereafter is at thirty to forty day intervals. The last cut will be in late April or early May.

The crop is usually highly responsive to phosphate in the seed-bed. No top dressings are given.

Weed control is by mowing; traditionally produced seed usually contains Cichorium and T. resupinatum; both are easily removed by mechanical cleaners; traditionally the former is removed by flotation.


Berseem is only propagated by seed.

Seed Production: Berseem is a free seeder where climatic conditions are right. It flowers as temperatures rise and day-lengths increase in spring; harvest in Punjab is in May- June. Cultivation is as for fodder and good responses to phosphatic fertiliser are usual; one or two cuts are usually taken, late mowing, however, reduces seed yield. Good, clean seed must be used for seed fields and the usual precautions taken for purity and trueness to type. The crop is traditionally harvested by hand, care must be taken to avoid shattering; then dried and threshed. From 800 to 1 200 kg of seed can be obtained; mechanised production presents few problems. Egypt is a major exporter of seed. There are about 440 000 seeds per kg. Hard-seededness is not a problem.


T. alexandrinum L. Var., alexandrinum Boiss. is an unbranched or only slightly branched plant with slender, solid stems which is grown as a single-cut crop, the "Fahl" group of cultivars.

T. alexandrinum L. Var. serotinum Zoh. & Lern branches profusely from the base; its stems are thick and fistulous; this is the "Mescawi" group of multi-cut cultivars.

Products & uses

If sown in early autumn it establishes rapidly and will provide feed before and during the colder months, growth speeds up with rising temperatures in spring and, in the Northern hemisphere reaches a peak in late March through April; thereafter production drops off rapidly and usually ends by mid-May. Berseem is often fed chaffed, in mixture with chopped straw.

Egyptian clover has a high growing point and is not well suited to grazing but recovers well after mowing. If it is grazed a quick rotation system with resting periods for regrowth should be used. The usual precautions against bloat should be taken but it is not usually dangerous.

Conservation : The succulent stems are not easy to dry; hay is only made from the late spring growth when there is a peak of production, temperatures are high and the herbage is slightly drier. It is difficult to cure and leaf drop is usually heavy once dried. Smallholders often partially dry the crop in the field, then move it to house-roofs or other protected areas around the farmstead and complete the drying there; the dropped leaves can be swept up. In mechanised harvesting a mower with a crimper speeds drying. Berseem on its own is not a suitable crop for ensiling.

As percentage of dry matter









Fresh 9 weeks, India








Fresh 12 weeks, India








Fresh 15 weeks, India








Fresh 18 weeks, India








Fresh 24 weeks, India








It is a high-quality fodder and a valuable source of honey.

Crop Improvement

Berseem is unknown in the wild; both diploid, 2n = 16, and tetraploid strains exist. Some selection has been done in the main producing countries but seed of improved varieties is scarce on the market.

Multicut landraces of the Mescawi (spelling very variable) type are by far the most widespread in traditional areas; in Pakistan selections ‘Agaithi’ and ‘Pachaiti’ are recommended. Bigbee is an USA cold tolerant c.v. and Multicut is also mentioned from there. Lilibeo and Sacramonte are mentioned from Italy, and Giza 1 from Egypt.

Pests & Diseases

Berseem is not seriously affected by pests. Heliothus armigera may attack it but can usually be controlled by harvesting the crop. Nematodes can reduce yield; Meloidogyne arenaria is reported from Egypt and M. incognita from Egypt and USA. Tylenchorhynchus vulgaris and Heliotylenchus dihystera are reported from Pakistan.


Links for the genus:


Dixit O.P., Singh U.P. & Gupta J.N. 1988 ; Bakheit B.R. 1989 ; Bhatti M.B. & Sartaj Khan 1996 ; Fairbrother T.E. 1991 ; Kernick M. D. 1978 ; Knight W.E. 1985 ; Roberts Sir W. & Kartar Singh 1951 ; Zohary M. & Heller D. 1984