Clover is a common sight along roadsides and in pastures across the U.S. and Europe. While there are many species of clover, all share a few basic traits. Clover always comes in leaves of three, giving its genus the name of Trifolium – tri means three and folium means leaf. Clover is a legume and fixes nitrogen into the soil, making it richer. In addition to being important for soil and agriculture, clover is an important component in the food web. Many animals and insects depend on a diet rich in clover.
There are many mammals, big and small, that eat clover. The white-tailed deer, for example, grazes heavily on clover. In fact, white-tailed deer are so partial to clover that many commercial deer feeds are almost entirely made of clover. Small mammals also enjoy clover, including eastern cottontail rabbits, red foxes, woodchucks, marmots and groundhogs. Clover is also a good feed for livestock. Cattle and sheep that graze on clover often don't need to be fed additional feed since clover delivers an optimal mix of protein, fiber, calcium and vitamins A and D.
Various bird species consume all parts of the clover plant, including the beans, leaves and flowers. Some species that graze on clover are wild turkey, Canadian geese, grouse, partridge and various species of quail.
For many insect species, clover is a mainstay of their diet. Insects will graze on both the leaves and flowers of clover. Insects that make the leaves a big part of their diet include the green lacewing and the green stinkbug. Species that dine on the flowers of the clover include the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly, the spice-bush swallowtail butterfly, the hummingbird moth, the cabbage white butterfly, the monarch butterfly, the honey bee and the clouded sulfur butterfly.
Other invertebrates eat clover, including the larval forms of various butterflies and moths, who dine on leaves as caterpillars and on the nectar from the flowers as flying adults. The earthworm, who dines on a variety of foods, including dead leaves, soil and even small insects, also enjoys eating live clover.