A purple carpet on the prairie: One man’s wildflower is this farmer’s cash crop

Great State
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OKLAHOMA CITY — He’s still a farmer, hostage to the elements, pessimistic even in a wet season, but George Shaw still can’t help but appreciate this crop for its unique beauty.

“It’s just amazing,” says Shaw.

“This might be the prettiest dirt road in Oklahoma,” remarks a visitor.

“I think you’re right,” he replies.

A careful searcher might find Purple Prairie Clover growing by itself on the pastures and grasslands of Harper County.

Farmer Shaw figured out how to make a royal carpet of it.

He bends down to explain, “One plant comes up from a crown every year, and they’ll send out shoots. Each one, depending on the rainfall, will produce little runners.”

“Out here where they say there’s nothing, there’s everything.”

George isn’t the only creature who likes this stuff.

Bees and butterflies flock to it.

Horny Toads and jackrabbits like it for cover.

Shaw says, “It’s helping nature. That’s the biggest deal.”

Sometime in mid-July, after the blooms drop off, Shaw will gather up the seed that normally drops to the ground, and he’ll sell it, the prettiest cash crop you’ll ever see.

“A lot of people want to put these in their flower gardens at the house,” explains George, “or for different seed mixes for butterflies.”

Shaw had to convince his wheat farmer dad to let him experiment with a little seven-acre plot twenty years ago.

These days he grows clover, Echinacea, Illinois Bundleflower, and bluestem on the family farm.

“My great-grandfather farmed this field here and another field over there with a team of mules,” he says.

He has 20 acres in purple clover here, a bright spot in the middle of a sea of green and brown.

It’s a secluded space, but this season as pretty a spot as you could find anywhere.

“Really good crop,” he smiles. “I haven’t seen it look this good since 2007.”

Just ask the farmer who’s rolling in clover every time he looks.

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