Midwest Region - Ohio Ecological Services Office Conserving the nature of America

Running buffalo clover

Photo by Marci Lininger; USFWS


Running Buffalo Clover
Trifolium stoloniferum


Current Status: Endangered


Description: Running buffalo clover is a perennial species with leaves divided into 3 leaflets. This plant is called running buffalo clover because of the stolons, or runners, that extend from the base of erect stems. These stolons are capable of rooting at the nodes to reproduce vegetatively. The flower heads are about 1 inch wide, white, and grow on stems that are 2 to 8 inches long. Each flower head has 2 large opposite leaves below it on the flowering stem. In Ohio, running buffalo clover typically flowers in May.

Habitat and Distribution: This species can be found in partially shaded woodlots, mowed areas (lawns, parks, cemeteries), and along streams and trails. Running buffalo clover requires periodic disturbance and a somewhat open habitat to successfully flourish, but cannot tolerate full-sun, full-shade, or severe disturbance. The original habitat for the species is believed to have been areas of rich soils in the ecotone between open forest and prairie. These areas are believed to have been maintained by the disturbance caused by bison.

The historic distribution of running buffalo clover includes the states of Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. However, to date the species has not been relocated in Illinois, Kansas and Arkansas. In Ohio, current populations of running buffalo clover are located in four counties in the southern part of the state.

Cause of Decline and Current Threats:
Reasons for the historic decline in running buffalo clover populations are unclear. The species may have depended on large herbivores (i.e., bison) to periodically disturb areas and create habitat, as well as to disperse its seeds. As bison were eliminated, vital habitat and a means of seed dispersal were lost. Current threats to running buffalo clover include habitat destruction and loss, small population sizes prone to extinction, unfavorable land management practices, and competition from non-native invasive plants.

Recovery Prospects:
Recovery of running buffalo clover will be achieved by implementing actions which address the species distribution, numbers, and threats. Given the known threats and constraints, the recovery effort focuses primarily on increasing the number of conserved and managed populations, determining the viability of existing populations, and research into the species ecological requirements.

Key to this strategy is the conservation and ecological management of various-sized populations of running buffalo clover throughout its geographic range. The recovery criteria and subsequent recovery actions rely heavily on retaining and managing the habitats on which running buffalo clover needs to maintain viability. In addition, the recovery strategy relies on a greater understanding of the biotic and abiotic needs of running buffalo clover. Numerous scientific studies have started to shed light on the ecological requirements of running buffalo clover, but more information is needed to understand the level of periodic disturbance required to maintain the species.

More Information

Species Profile

Regional Information

Running Buffalo Clover Recovery Plan: First Revision

RBC Management Recommendations

Partners for Running Buffalo Clover Recovery

Running Buffalo Clover Consultation Workshop