E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Medicago sativa L.
alfalfa (lucerne)
Fabaceae (Pea family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Bryan Kelly-McArthur  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #72686)

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Distribution of Medicago sativa
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Species Information

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Perennial herb from a long taproot; stems erect to decumbent, 30-100 cm tall/long, slender, finely stiff-hairy to glabrous.
Alternate, pinnately compound; leaflets 3, elliptic-oblanceolate to lance-oblong, 1-4 cm long, saw-toothed towards the rounded to squared-off, needle-pointed tip, sparsely to densely short-hairy, the terminal leaflet stalked; stipules entire, linear-lanceolate, not sheathing, 4-12 mm long.
Inflorescence a compact, head-like to cylindric, axillary raceme of (7) 20 to 80 (100) pea-like flowers, the racemes 1-4 cm long on stalks about equal to or longer than the leaves; corollas bluish-purple, occasionally pink to yellow or whitish, 7-10 mm long, the banner distinctly longer than the wings and keel; calyces a little shorter than the corollas, the awl-shaped teeth slightly longer than the tube.
Pods, linear-oblong, coiled in 2 to 3 spirals or slightly curved or sickle-shaped, strongly net-veined but not armed, hairy or glabrous, 2-15 mm long; seeds several to 20.
Two subspecies occur in BC. Fertile hybrids are reported to be fairly frequent, with flowers that range from yellow to purple, often with a metallic sheen.

1. Flowers blue, rarely pink or white; pods spirally coiled, 2-4 mm long; leaflets usually 2-4 cm long................... ssp. sativa

1. Flowers yellow, rarely violet; pods merely curved, 10-15 mm long; leaflets usually 1-2 cm long.................... ssp. falcata (L.) Arcang. (sickle medic, yellow lucerne)

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

USDA Species Characteristics

Flower Colour:
Blooming Period:
Fruit/Seed characteristics:
Colour: Brown
Present over the Summer
According to the USDA, this species is a known allelopath.
Source:  The USDA

Habitat / Range

Mesic to dry cultivated fields, roadsides and ditches (ssp. sativa), and roadsides and dry slopes (ssp. falcata) in the steppe zone; ssp. sativa - common agricultural escape in S BC west of the Coast-Cascade Mountains, infrequent in SW BC, ssp. falcata - rare, known from scattered locations in S BC; introduced from Eurasia.

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Ecological Framework for Medicago sativa

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 225 820 2131
Slope Gradient (%) 0 16 90
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
0 207 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
0 3 7
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: BG(63), BWBS(5), ESSF(8), ICH(3), IDF(84), MS(9), PP(32), SBPS(1)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is not evaluated, unknown or variable.

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References