There has been little study on the growth and morphology of individual plants constituting the population of white clover in mixed swards under grazing. Such information is required if the mechanisms governing plant productivity and persistence are to be understood.
Intact white clover plants were sampled from intensively sheep-grazed pastures under set stocking, rotational grazing, and a combination of both systems, by taking turves (250 × 250 mm), and washing out the plants, every month for a year. Characters measured for every stolon of each plant were: presence of a growing point; numbers of leaves, roots and axillary buds; stolon length. Total plant leaf and stolon dry weight were also recorded. Plants were classified according to degree of branching, and the contribution of each branching order to the population determined.
There were strong seasonal variations in plant size (leaf and stolon dry weight, stolon length, and numbers of stolons and leaves per plant) which showed a significant decrease in spring with recovery over the following summer. This was paralleled by a rapid increase in the proportion of less branched plants (1st and 2nd branching order) in the population from 60 to 80% in spring, as higher-order plants broke up into smaller- and lower-ordered plants at this time. Numbers of roots per plant increased over winter to peak in early spring then declined in the following summer-autumn. While system of grazing management had no significant effect on branching structure of plants, it had a large effect on plant dry weight; rotationally grazed plants were 2·5 times larger than set stocked plants (0·182 cf. 0·073 g respectively).
Other general features of plant morphology were that each successive order of branch stolons was shorter and length before branching was less than that of their preceding parent stolon. The highest branching order observed was 6th order. There was no relationship between branching and numbers of roots; in branched plants only 55% of stolons were rooted regardless of plant order, but rooted stolons accounted for 85% of total stolon length and carried 62, 48 and 90% of the leaves, growing points and axillary buds per plant, respectively.
Comparison with other studies suggests that the processes outlined in this report may be common to white clover growth under grazing over a wide range of favourable environments.