More on Toxic Clover that Burned an Essex Horse's Face | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

More on Toxic Clover that Burned an Essex Horse's Face 

Vermont horse owners are breathing a collective sigh of relief today upon news that the facial injuries sustained by "Nellie," a 13-year-old paint mare in Essex, were caused not by some wanton act of animal cruelty but by the animal consuming a type of clover (photo right) found throughout Vermont.

As Seven Days reported in this week's Animal Issue story, "Whoa, Nellie! Essex Equine got Burned By Unlucky Clover, Not Battery Acid," on May 16 Nellie's owners went to their barn and discovered the horse’s face covered in a gel-like substance. They assumed someone had attacked the animal with a caustic chemical that caused its skin to peel and permanently blinded its left eye.

However, a vet at Vermont Large Animal Clinic Equine Hospital in Milton later determined the burns were the result of a photosensitivity caused by the horse consuming a toxic plant: a common variety of clover that often grows in New England horse pasture called alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum), a close relative of both white and red clover, the latter of which is Vermont's state flower.

After deadline, we learned more about the toxic clover (and got these helpful pictures) from Sid Bosworth, an Extension agronomist and instructor in the plant and soil science department at the University of Vermont. 

According to Bosworth, alsike clover was traditionally seeded in pasture mixes, in part because it's more tolerant of Vermont's wetter soils. Although alsike is of European origin, Bosworth refers to it as a "naturalized" rather than "invasive" species, as it's not considered a threat to native plants.

"And, it's the only clover that I know of that has that [photosensitive] trait, at least around here," he adds. 

How can horse owners determine if they have alsike clover in their pasture? As Bosworth explains, the blooms look similar to white clover, the most common variety of clover found in the state, but get pink at the lower part of the flowerhead. Alsike also has two features that distinguish it from other clover: There are no hairs on it and no "watermarks" on its leaves.

Bosworth can't say for sure how much alsike is toxic to horses and other light-skinned livestock — evidently, its effects can be worse when the plant is wet — but suggests that if owners suspect their animal is having a problem, they should contact their vet. Horses are the most vulnerable, though other livestock, especially light-skinned animals, are also susceptible. Alsike is not considered harmful to humans.

Finally, the agronomist emphasizes that he doesn't want to generate a panic about this plant, especially if someone discovers some of it growing in their pasture.

"If they have a few of these out there, it's probably not a big deal," Bosworth says. "But if there's a lot of it, they may want to think about getting rid of it."

For a good list of Vermont plants that are poisonous to livestock, click here.

Photos courtesy of Sid Bosworth, UVM Ag Extension.

One or more images has been removed from this article. For further information, contact
Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Tags: ,

More By This Author

About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2022 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401

Advertising Policy  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  About Us  |  Help
Website powered by Foundation