Melilotus, known as melilot, sweet-clover, and kumoniga (from the Cumans), is a genus in the family Fabaceae. Members are known as common grassland plants and as weeds of cultivated ground. Originally from Europe and Asia, it is now found worldwide.
This legume is commonly named for its sweet smell, which is due to the presence of coumarin in its tissues. Coumarin, though responsible for the sweet smell of hay and newly mowed grass, has a bitter taste, and, as such, possibly acts as a means for the plant to discourage consumption by animals. Fungi (including Penicillium, Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Mucor) can convert coumarin into dicoumarol, a toxic anticoagulant. Consequently, dicoumarol may be found in decaying sweet-clover, and was the cause of the so-called sweet-clover disease, recognized in cattle in the 1920s. A few varieties of sweet clover have been developed with low coumarin content and are safer for forage and silage.
Melilotus, often used as a green manure, can be turned into the soil to increase its nitrogen and organic matter content. It is especially valuable in heavy soils because of its deep rooting. However, it may fail if the soil is too acidic. It should be turned into the soil when 8 to 10 inches tall. Unscarified seed is best sown in spring when the ground is not too dry; scarified seed is better sown in late fall or even in the snow, so it will germinate before competing weeds the following spring.
Blue melilot (Trigonella caerulea) is not a member of the genus, despite the name.
The genus Melilotus currently has nineteen recognized species:
- Melilotus albus Medik.
- Melilotus altissimus Thuill.
- Melilotus dentatus (Waldst. & Kit.) Pers.
- Melilotus elegans Salzm. ex Ser.
- Melilotus hirsutus Lipsky
- Melilotus indicus (L.) All.
- Melilotus infestus Guss.
- Melilotus italicus (L.) Lam.
- Melilotus macrocarpus Coss. & Durieu
- Melilotus officinalis (L.) Lam.
- Melilotus polonicus (L.) Desr.
- Melilotus segetalis (Brot.) Ser.
- Melilotus siculus (Turra) B. D. Jacks.
- Melilotus speciosus Durieu
- Melilotus spicatus (Sm.) Breistr.
- Melilotus suaveolens Ledeb.
- Melilotus sulcatus Desf.
- Melilotus tauricus (M. Bieb.) Ser.
- Melilotus wolgicus Poir.
- Woodgate, Katherine; Maxted, Nigel; Bennett, Sarita Jane (1996). "Genetic resources of Mediterranean pasture and forage legumes". In Bennett, Sarita Jane; Cocks, Philip Stanley. Genetic resources of Mediterranean pasture and forage legumes. Current Plant Science and Biotechnology in Agriculture 33. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers. p. 203. ISBN 0-7923-5522-9.
- Bulgarian Folk Customs, Mercia MacDermott, pg 27
- "Phytochemicals.info:Coumarin". Retrieved 2011-11-26.
- Edwards WC, Burrows GE, Tyr RJ: 1984, Toxic plants of Oklahoma:clovers. Okla Vet Med Assoc 36:30-32.
- Behzad Yamini, Robert H. Poppenga, W. Emmett Braselton, Jr., and Lawrence J. Judge (1995). "Dicoumarol (moldy sweet clover) toxicosis in a group of Holstein calves" (PDF). J Vet Diagn Invest 7:420-422.
- "Sweet clovers: What is the difference between yellow sweet clover and white sweet clover?".
- Five Acres and Independence by M.G. Kains. 1973.
- "Species Nomenclature in GRIN". Retrieved 2010-08-04.