Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Melilotus indicus, Annual Yellow Sweetclover

Melilotus indicus, Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Southwest Desert Wildflowers Melilotus indicus, Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Southwest Desert Wildflowers Melilotus indicus, Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Southwest Desert Wildflowers

Scientific Name: Melilotus indicus
Common Name: Annual Yellow Sweetclover

Also Called: Bokhara Clover, Californian Lucerne, Common Melilot, Hexham Scent, Indian Sweet-clover, King Island Clover, King Island Melilot, Small-flowered Melilot, Small-flowered Sweet Clover, Small Melilot, Sour Clover, Sweet Clover, Sweet Melilot (Spanish: Trèbol Agrio, Trèbol Amarillo, Alfalfilla, Meliloto).

Family: Fabaceae or Leguminosae Family

Synonyms: (Melilotus parviflorus, Trifolium indicum)

Status: Introduced from Eurasia, invasive.

Duration: Annual or biennial.

Size: Up to 20 inches (51 cm) or more.

Growth Form: Annual Yellow Sweetclover is an upright forb/herb that is without hairs (glabrous).

Leaves: Annual Yellow Sweetclover has green compound leaves; there are 3 leaflets such as a clover leaf; the upper parts of the leaflets are serrulate.

Flower Color: Annual Yellow Sweetclover has yellow flowers; the fruits are pods typically with 1 seed.

Flowering Season: April or May to July and September; blooms April through October in California.

Elevation: Below 4,500 feet (1,372 m).

Habitat Preferences: Open disturbed areas; along roadsides, ditches and in fields.

Recorded Range: Annual Yellow Sweet-clover is an invasive species in the United States, mostly in all border states. In Arizona it occurs in the west and southern parts of the state.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Melilotus indicus.

North America species range map for Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus indicus:

North America species range map for Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus indicus:
Click image for full size map.

U.S. Weed Information: Melilotus indicus is listed in:
  • Weeds of Kentucky and adjacent states: a field guide;
  • Weeds of the Northeast,
  • Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains;
  • Weeds of the United States and Canada;
  • Weeds of the West.

  • U.S. Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: In North America, according to (Invasive and Exotic Species of North America), Melilotus indicus is listed as an invasive species by the following authorities:
  • Jil M. Swearingen, Survey of invasive plants occurring on National Park Service lands, 2000-2007
  • National Park Service, Mid-Atlantic Exotic Plant Management Team Invasive Plant List
  • Weed US - Database of Plants Invading Natural Areas in the United States

  • Wetland Indicator: In North America Melilotus indicus has the following wetland designations;
  • Arid West, FACU;
  • Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, FACU;
  • Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, FACU;
  • Great Plains, FACU;
  • Hawaii, UPL;
  • Midwest, FACU;
  • Northcentral & Northeast, FACU;
  • Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, FACU.

  • FACU = Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands
    UPL = Obligate Upland, almost never occur in wetlands

    Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown Genus Information: In North America, USDA Plants Database lists 14 species and 17 accepted taxa overall for Melilotus. Worldwide, World Flora Online includes 35 accepted species names and a further 38 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus. The Plant List has 25 records for Melilotus which includes sub-species.

    The genus Melilotus was published in 1754 by Philip Miller, (1691-1771).

    In the Southwestern United States: Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah each have 2 introduced species. Data approximate, subject to revision.

    Comments: Annual Yellow Sweetclover is similar in appearance to Yellow Sweet-clover (Melilotus officinalis) however flowers on Annual Yellow Sweet-clover are smaller, usually not more than 2.5mm long and the stems are commonly less than 1 meter long.

    According to several authors, Melilotus indicus has poisonous properties to humans and other mammals including livestock in Australia, Britain and South Africa.

  • Pammel, L. H. 1911. Manual of poisonous plants.
  • Kellerman, T. S. et al. 1988. Plant poisonings and mycotoxicoses of livestock in Southern Africa.
  • Cooper, M. R. & A. W. Johnson. 1998. Poisonous plants and fungi in Britain: animal and human poisoning.
  • Everest, S. L. 1981. Poisonous plants of Australia.
  • Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
    Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus indicus has attractive flowers, the flowers and their seeds may be visited by hummingbirds and/or small mammals including rodents and granivorous birds in search of nectar or food.

    Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Honey Bees and Insects
    Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus indicus has attractive flowers, the flowers and their plants may be visited by butterflies, moths, flies, honeybees, Native Bees and other insects in search of food and nectar.

    According to J.B. Hacker, 1990, A guide to herbaceous and shrub legumes of Queensland University, Queensland Press, Melilotus indicus is important for honey production in St. Lucia, Australia.

    The genus “Melilotus” (Melilo'tus:) is from the Greek words meli, "honey," and lotos, a leguminous plant.

    The genus Melilotus was published in 1754 by Philip Miller, (1691-1771).

    The species epithet indicus (in'dicus:) means that this plant is of, or from, or referring to India.

    The taxon Melilotus indicus was published in 1785 by Carl Linnaeus, (1707-1778).

    Ethnobotany - Native American Ethnobotany; University of Michigan - Dearborn
    Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus indicus is used by southwestern United States indigenous peoples for such purposes as described below.
  • Isleta Other, Insecticide; Plant used in beds as a bed bug repellent.
  • Pima Other, Toys & Games; Used in target shooting games.
  • Pomo, Kashaya Drug, Laxative; Decoction of whole plant taken as a purgative, a very strong laxative.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 08/29/2015; updated 02/16/2022
    References and additional information:
    Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.; Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search; accessed on-line; 02/16/2022.
    World Flora Online; A Project of the World Flora Online Consortium; An Online Flora of All Known Plants - (accessed on-line; 02/16/2022) The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed on-line; 02/16/2022).
    Jepson 2012, Kearney and Peebles 1969; Editors: S.Buckley 2010, F.S.Coburn 2015; from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; accessed 02/16/2022.; - Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus indicus(accessed on-line; 02/16/2022).
    Wikipedia contributors. "Melilotus indicus." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Mar. 2021. Web. 16 Feb. 2022.
    Kelly Steele & Duane Isely 2012, Melilotus indicus, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on February 16, 2022.
    Seiler, John, Peterson, John, North American species range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
    Etymology: Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed on-line; 02/16/2022)
    IPNI (2020). International Plant Names Index. Published on the Internet, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries and Australian National Botanic Gardens. [Retrieved on-line; 16 February 2022].