A tsunami of sweet clover painting the territory yellow

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- Does it kind of feel like everywhere you turn this year every field and hillside is turning yellow?

Sweet clover rises up in a pasture east of Bear Butte in Meade County.

It's a massive wave of sweet clover and because it's a biennial plant -- one with a two year life cycle -- it took a couple of wet years in a row for the wave to crest.

And we've had two really wet growing seasons in a row.

"In year one (the clover) puts a lot of effort into its extensive root system," said Krista Ehlert, a range specialist with the South Dakota State University Extension Office. "And then in year two, it puts all of its resources into the top growth, or the above ground growth. And then also in year two it blooms and we get that nice yellow color which is pretty to some people and to other people its a little bit worrisome."

Here's what's worrisome: Cattle can eat it, but mainly when it's young.

"It can grow anywhere from 5 to 8 feet tall," said Ehlert but by then it's tough and stringy and the cattle don't like it.

And it's tough to hay because most haying equipment isn't built for the tough stems.

On the plus side, honey bees -- and honey producers -- love it.

"We like the mild flavor of the honey the bees produce on the clover," said Logan Cleaver as he dropped off bee hives in a field east of Sturgis. "They can really make a lot of honey off the clover."

Cleaver works for the Stoddard Honey company from Utah and brings hives up each year to feast on the sweet clover. "South Dakota's awesome and this year should be one of the better years," he said.

Ehlert noted that clover and honey have a deep link. "Meliloitus is part of the scientific name for sweet clover," she said. "And mel means honey in Latin. (Sweet clover) is actually a preferred nectar source for our honey bees."

But it's also a threat to its neighbors.

"It grows pretty dense with its stem and its structure so what happens is that it shading out some of our native species (of grasses)," Ehlert said.

It's too early to predict if next year will produce such a grand clover display but the non-native species has some staying power.

"It can create hundreds of thousands of seeds and they'll stay in the soil -- viable -- for 30 to 40 years," said Ehlert.

The bottom line?

"I would definitely keep an eye on it," she said. "Use it while you can but kind of know what to expect."