Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Medicago sativa, Alfalfa

Medicago sativa, AlfalfaMedicago sativa, Alfalfa Medicago sativa, Alfalfa Medicago sativa, Alfalfa

Scientific Name: Medicago sativa
Common Name: Alfalfa
Also Called: Spanish: Alfalfa
Family: Fabaceae or Leguminosae Family
Synonyms: (Medicago tunetana)
Status: Introduced
Duration: Annual or biennial
Size: Up to 2 feet or more.
Growth Form: Forb/herb; stems decumbent to erect, glabrous or puberulous.
Leaves: Green; compound, trifoliate, leaflets up to ½ inch long, narrowly lanceolate to obovate.
Flower Color: Purple or multicolored; flowering inflorescence spike-like with up to 25 flowers, fruit a legume.
Flowering Season: April to October.
Elevation: Below 4,500 feet

Habitat Preferences: Disturbed areas, agricultural areas, roadsides.

Recorded Range: Alfalfa has found its way through most of North America, including Canada and Mexico. In Arizona it is found in the northern, central and southeast parts of the states.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Medicago sativa.

U.S. Weed Information: Medicago sativa is listed in: Weeds of the United States and Canada. Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.

Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.

Wetland Indicator: In North America Medicago sativa has the following wetland designations;
Alaska, UPL; Arid West, UPL; Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, UPL; Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, UPL; Great Plains, UPL; Midwest, FACU; Northcentral & Northeast, UPL and Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, UPL;
UPL, Obligate Upland, Nonhydrophyte, Almost never occur in wetlands
FACU, Facultative Upland, Nonhydrophyte, Usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands.

Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: 37 non-native species in Medicago in the United States. 4 non-native species in Arizona.
5 sub-species in Medicago sativa.

Comments: In Arizona and elsewhere Medicago has become naturalized. The plants in the photos above were taken at 2,500 feet along the road up to Mount Ord, Maricopa County, Arizona. Alfalfa is heavily utilized by wildlife including birds and mammals. It is an excellent food source for most herbivores and omnivores. It is important as a rehabilitation species of overgrazed areas.

Several ethno-botanical uses have been identified for Medicago sativa. See ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Date Profile Completed: 08/30/2015, updated 09/14/2015, updated format 10/12/2017
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search
Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
1993, The Jepson Manual, Citation: (accessed 08/30/2015)
USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (MEOF);; (accessed 08/30/2015)
Wikipedia contributors, 'Alfalfa', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 August 2015, 20:04 UTC, [accessed 30 August 2015]
Graham, Edward H. 1941. Legumes for erosion control and wildlife. Misc., Publ. 412. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. 153 p. 10234
SEINet for synonyms, scientific names, recorded geographic locations and general information