Molecular phylogenetics of the clover genus (Trifolium--Leguminosae)

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2006 Jun;39(3):688-705. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2006.01.004. Epub 2006 Feb 17.


Trifolium, the clover genus, is one of the largest genera of the legume family. We conducted parsimony and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses based on nuclear ribosomal DNA internal transcribed spacer and chloroplast trnL intron sequences obtained from 218 of the ca. 255 species of Trifolium, representatives from 11 genera of the vicioid clade, and an outgroup Lotus. We confirm the monophyly of Trifolium, and propose a new infrageneric classification of the genus based on the phylogenetic results. Incongruence between the nrDNA and cpDNA results suggests five to six cases of apparent hybrid speciation, and identifies the putative progenitors of the allopolyploids T. dubium, a widespread weed, and T. repens, the most commonly cultivated clover species. Character state reconstructions confirm 2n=16 as the ancestral chromosome number in Trifolium, and infer a minimum of 19 instances of aneuploidy and 22 of polyploidy in the genus. The ancestral life history is hypothesized to be annual in subgenus Chronosemium and equivocal in subgenus Trifolium. Transitions between the annual and perennial habit are common. Our results are consistent with a Mediterranean origin of the genus, probably in the Early Miocene. A single origin of all North and South American species is hypothesized, while the species of sub-Saharan Africa may originate from three separate dispersal events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • DNA, Plant / genetics
  • Phylogeny*
  • Trifolium / classification
  • Trifolium / genetics*


  • DNA, Plant