Medicago sativa – Alfalfa

Medicago sativa - Alfalfa, Lucerne

Medicago sativa - Alfalfa, Lucerne

Plant Name

Scientific Name: Medicago sativa

Common Names: Alfalfa, Lucerne

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Annual, Perennial

Growth Habit: Herb/Forb

Arizona Native Status: Introduced. This naturalized forage crop is native to western Asia, but it is now widely cultivated for animal feed.

Habitat: Desert, Upland, Mountain

Flower Color: Purple, Yellow (rare)

Flowering Season: Spring, Summer, Fall

Height: To 3 feet (91 cm) tall

Description: The flowers are found in terminal clusters that emerge from the leaf axils. Each flower cluster contains 8 to 25 small, pea-like flowers. The flowers are followed by coiled seedpods (not burs). The leaves are dark green and pinnate with 3 leaflets that are toothed near the tips. The stems are upright.

The other Medicago species found here have yellow flowers and may have burs. Slimflower Scurfpea (Psoralidium tenuiflorum) has larger, more loosely clustered flowers and untoothed leaflets.

Special Characteristics

Allergenic – The flower pollen is a moderate allergen.

Butterfly Plant – The flowers attract butterflies and especially bees (which use it to make delicious alfalfa honey).

Edible – The seeds and the raw, cooked, or dried leaves are edible, but only when consumed in moderation due to their saponin content. The leaves can be used to make tea.


Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Rosidae
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae – Pea family
Genus: Medicago L. – alfalfa
Species: Medicago sativa L. – alfalfa

More About This Plant

Arizona County Distribution Map