Nature Study: Burr Clover

If Burr Clover (Medicago polymorpha) had feelings, it would feel incredibly flattered to know that it is being featured here today.  It is so common and so, well, all over the place that people tend to just look right past it (or walk right on it).  It’s an unimpressive, massive carpeting on lawns and fields, creeping over onto sidewalks and spreading bright green wherever it can.  BUT Burr Clover definitely deserves a mention all of its own because it’s that plant that loves to stick to your socks as you walk through the field (although they’re not the painful burrs that you might be thinking of that end up getting stuck in your finger and cause you to let out a “ewouch!”…those are most likely sandburs…still…stay focused on our oft forgotten burr clover).

The first time I stopped my kids to do an object lesson on Burr Clover and I pointed it out, I laughed because my kids didn’t even notice what I was pointing at.  This was a plant that they were literally used to running over, playing tag on and, generally, skipping right past.

{An object lesson, part of Charlotte Mason’s nature study philosophy, is a perfect opportunity to allow our children to become more observant.  We call upon them to carefully observe and examine an object using their five senses.  Object lessons should appear to be by-the-way, somewhat spontaneous discoveries where we are out and about and come across something fascinating.  Considering the fact that I am not well-versed in nature study and I am learning alongside my children, I tend to keep an eye out when we’re on a nature walk for items that I can use in our next lesson and then I prepare my object lesson before we head out.  I aim for one object lesson a week so my kids have time to absorb what they learned and to notice it in future nature walks.  I do require them to make a drawing and write down a few notable facts in their nature journals to help cement the object in their minds.  You can read more about object lessons here and here.}

I gave them some time to observe the plant and the first thing they noticed was that it had three leaves.  They observed that its leaves were not heart shaped so they ruled out wood sorrel.  William guessed that it was some type of clover.

I asked them to reach way down and pull some out of the ground.  Ooh!  They discovered that while it looked like it was a bunch of little individual plants, there were actually a bunch of stems running along the ground coming from the same taproot (hence the name of those little stems: runners).

But the most exciting part of observing the burr clover was to find the burrs beginning to form.  It was so fun to see the light go off in their heads.  First there was a puzzled reaction…what is this?  Then there was the thought process.  And then the aha! moment when they realized that it was the seed envelope they were looking at in the form of a burr…the infamous, stick to your sock, get stuck in your clothes burr.  Those little burrs start out green and soft but will eventually turn brown and harden.  (We actually loves burrs over here because of the whole idea that we are helping spread plant love just by letting those little buggers stick to our socks!)

Burr Clover has a lovely family tree.  It is part of the same family as traditional flowering clover (like red clover that we use medicinally), the legume or pea family (fabaceae) but not part of the same genus.  As for the genus, medicago, it shares that with one of my favorite plants, alfalfa.  Both alfalfa and burr clover hail from the Mediterranean Basin, and their genus name comes from the Greek word Medike, abbreviated for Medike poa, which literally translated means Median grass and since the plants were imported from Media to Greece way (way, way) back, the name makes sense.

Sadly Burr Clover does not boast of great medicinal value or shine as a foraging plant, but it does have some use.  According to Plants for the Future, the flowers, leaves and seeds are edible. Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen at Foraging Texas explains how to toast and get to the seeds inside those little burrs.

So there you have the most exciting blog post I could possibly write about one of the most mundane, unexciting plants…now get out there and show that Burr Clover a little extra love.

{Being intentional is so much easier done when we slow down and really look around us.  Personally, we spend a lot of time in nature, partly because we follow a Charlotte Mason education, but mostly because it keeps us intentional in our thoughts and actions.  I invite you, in these Nature Study posts, to join us in our intentional journey…to train your eye to be observant, to relish the intricacies of the amazing world we live in and to spend more time with the people you love stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.  If you are in the South Texas area (Corpus Christi and the surrounding cities), then you’ll find these nature lessons tailored perfectly to you and your family…see if you can find what we’re finding!  If you live somewhere beyond our beautiful little corner of the world then use these lessons as a springboard…see what we’re observing, allow yourself to be inspired and then just get out there and be intentional, observant, and grateful for all the little surprises right outside your back door.}

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