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Vascular Plants of California
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Medicago sativa

Higher Taxonomy
Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)View DescriptionDichotomous Key
Habit: Annual to tree. Leaf: generally alternate, generally compound, generally stipuled, generally entire, pinnately veined Inflorescence: generally raceme, spike, umbel or head; or flowers 1--few in axils. Flower: generally bisexual, generally bilateral; hypanthium 0 or flat to tubular; sepals generally 5, generally fused; petals generally 5, free, fused, or lower 2 +- united into keel (see 3, Key to Groups, for banner, wings); stamens 10 or many (or [1], 5, 6, 7, 9), free or fused or 10 with 9 filaments at least partly fused, 1 (uppermost) free; pistil 1, ovary superior, generally 1-chambered, ovules 1--many, style, stigma 1. Fruit: legume, including a stalk-like base (above receptacle) or not. Seed: 1--many, often +- reniform, generally hard, smooth.
Genera In Family: +- 730 genera, 19400 species: worldwide; with grasses, requisite in agriculture, most natural ecosystems. Many cultivated, most importantly Arachis, peanut; Glycine, soybean; Phaseolus, beans; Medicago, alfalfa; Trifolium, clovers; many orns. Note: Unless stated otherwise, fruit length including stalk-like base, number of 2° leaflets is per 1° leaflet. Upper suture of fruit adaxial, lower abaxial. Anthyllis vulneraria L. evidently a waif, a contaminant of legume seed from Europe. Laburnum anagyroides Medik., collected on Mount St. Helena in 1987, may be naturalized. Ceratonia siliqua L., carob tree (Group 2), differs from Gleditsia triacanthos L. in having evergreen (vs deciduous) leaves that are 1-pinnate (vs 1-pinnate on spurs on old stems, 2-pinnate on new stems) with 2--5(8) (vs 7--17) 1° leaflets, commonly cultivated, now naturalized in southern California. Aeschynomene rudis Benth. , Halimodendron halodendron (Pall.) Voss (possibly extirpated), Lens culinaris Medik. are agricultural weeds. Caragana arborescens Lam. only cult. Ononis alopecuroides L. , Sphaerophysa salsula (Pall.) DC. all evidently extirpated. Cercidium moved to Parkinsonia; Chamaecytisus to Cytisus; Psoralidium lanceolatum to Ladeania.
eFlora Treatment Author: Martin F. Wojciechowski, except as noted
Scientific Editor: Martin F. Wojciechowski, Thomas J. Rosatti.
Genus: MedicagoView DescriptionDichotomous Key

Habit: Annual, perennial herb, unarmed, generally hairy. Stem: prostrate to erect. Leaf: subpalmately compound or generally odd-1-pinnate; stipules +- fused to petiole, entire or deeply cut; leaflets 3, generally dentate near tip. Inflorescence: axillary or terminal, raceme, generally umbel- or +- head-like, 1--many-flowered. Flower: calyx lobes +- equal or not; corolla yellow or purple; 9 filaments fused, 1 free. Fruit: indehiscent, reniform or generally spirally coiled 1.5--8 turns (or sickle-shaped or straight), generally prickly. Seed: 1--several.
Etymology: (Greek: Medice, now Media, Asia Minor, source of alfalfa) Note: Medicago muricata possibly naturalized in Carrizo Plain.
eFlora Treatment Author: Martin F. Wojciechowski & Duane Isely
Unabridged Reference: Small & Jomphe 1989 Canad J Bot 67:3260--3294
Medicago sativa L.
Habit: Perennial herb, +- glabrous or puberulent. Stem: generally erect, 2--8 dm. Leaf: stipules lanceolate, entire to sharply toothed; leaflets 1--2.9 cm, narrowly lanceolate to obovate. Inflorescence: spike-like, 8--30-flowered, longer in fruit. Flower: calyx 4--4.5 mm; corolla 6--11 mm, violet or violet- to yellow-green (yellow). Fruit: generally coiled 2--3 turns (or straight or sickle-shaped); light to dark yellow-brown, leathery, prickles 0, hairs 0. Chromosomes: 2n=16,32.
Ecology: Disturbed, agricultural areas; Elevation: < 2450 m. Bioregional Distribution: CA-FP, GB, DMtns (Panamint Range); Distribution Outside California: United States except southeastern; native to Eurasia. Flowering Time: Apr--Oct Note: Cult; highly variable, polyploid complex in United States, including genetic components from several species; often divided into several species or subspecies, none tenable.
Synonyms: Medicago sativa subsp. falcata (L.) Arcang.; Medicago sativa subsp. sativa
Jepson eFlora Author: Martin F. Wojciechowski & Duane Isely
Index of California Plant Names (ICPN; linked via the Jepson Online Interchange)

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Botanical illustration including Medicago sativa

botanical illustration including Medicago sativa

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Citation for this treatment: Martin F. Wojciechowski & Duane Isely 2012, Medicago sativa, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on May 28, 2024.

Citation for the whole project: Jepson Flora Project (eds.) 2024, Jepson eFlora,, accessed on May 28, 2024.

Medicago sativa
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©2003 Michael Charters
Medicago sativa subsp. sativa
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©2016 Keir Morse
Medicago sativa
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©2009 Neal Kramer
Medicago sativa subsp. sativa
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©2016 Keir Morse
Medicago sativa
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©2015 Neal Kramer

More photos of Medicago sativa
in CalPhotos

Geographic subdivisions for Medicago sativa:
CA-FP, GB, DMtns (Panamint Range)
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map of distribution 1
(Note: any qualifiers in the taxon distribution description, such as 'northern', 'southern', 'adjacent' etc., are not reflected in the map above, and in some cases indication of a taxon in a subdivision is based on a single collection or author-verified occurence).


Data provided by the participants of the  Consortium of California Herbaria.
View all CCH records
All markers link to CCH specimen records. The original determination is shown in the popup window.
Blue markers indicate specimens that map to one of the expected Jepson geographic subdivisions (see left map). Purple markers indicate specimens collected from a garden, greenhouse, or other non-wild location.
Yellow markers indicate records that may provide evidence for eFlora range revision or may have georeferencing or identification issues.

CCH collections by month

Duplicates counted once; synonyms included.
Species do not include records of infraspecific taxa, if there are more than 1 infraspecific taxon in CA.
Blue line denotes eFlora flowering time (fruiting time in some monocot genera).