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Medicago sativa sativa

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Fabaceae (Pea)
Also in this family:
Alpine Milk-vetch, Alsike Clover, Birdsfoot, Birdsfoot Clover, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Bithynian Vetch, Bitter Vetch, Black Broom, Black Medick, Bladder Senna, Broad Bean, Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea, Bur Medick, Burrowing Clover, Bush Vetch, Clustered Clover, Common Broom, Common Gorse, Common Laburnum, Common Restharrow, Common Vetch, Crimson Clover, Crown Vetch, Dragon's Teeth, Dwarf Gorse, Dyer's Greenweed, False Acacia, Fine-leaved Vetch, Fodder Vetch, Garden Lupin, Garden Pea, Goat's Rue, Grass Vetchling, Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil, Hairy Greenweed, Hairy Tare, Hairy Vetchling, Hairy-fruited Broom, Haresfoot Clover, Hop Trefoil, Horseshoe Vetch, Hungarian Vetch, Kidney Vetch, Knotted Clover, Large Trefoil, Lesser Trefoil, Marsh Pea, Meadow Vetchling, Narrow-leaved Bird's-foot Trefoil, Narrow-leaved Everlasting Pea, Narrow-leaved Vetch, Nootka Lupin, Norfolk Everlasting Pea, Orange Birdsfoot, Petty Whin, Purple Milk-vetch, Purple Oxytropis, Red Clover, Reversed Clover, Ribbed Melilot, Rough Clover, Russell Lupin, Sainfoin, Scorpion Senna, Scottish Laburnum, Sea Clover, Sea Pea, Sickle Medick, Slender Bird's-foot Trefoil, Slender Tare, Slender Trefoil, Small Melilot, Small Restharrow, Smooth Tare, Spanish Broom, Spanish Gorse, Spiny Restharrow, Spotted Medick, Spring Vetch, Strawberry Clover, Suffocated Clover, Sulphur Clover, Tall Melilot, Toothed Medick, Tree Lupin, Tuberous Pea, Tufted Vetch, Twin-headed Clover, Two-flowered Everlasting Pea, Upright Clover, Upright Vetch, Western Clover, Western Gorse, White Broom, White Clover, White Lupin, White Melilot, Wild Liquorice, Wood Vetch, Yellow Oxytropis, Yellow Vetch, Yellow Vetchling, Zigzag Clover
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Fields, grassland, meadows, riversides, roadsides, sand dunes, seaside, wasteland, woodland.

Purple, 5 petals
Lucerne, also known as alfalfa is a resilient flowering plant that thrives in diverse habitats across the United Kingdom. With its distinctive purple blossoms clustered into small flower heads, Lucerne adds a vibrant touch to the scenic landscapes of UK fields, meadows, and grasslands. Known for its adaptability, this perennial herbaceous plant graces pastures and agricultural areas, enhancing the visual appeal of rural environments. Its deep taproot enables it to withstand various climatic conditions, contributing to its widespread presence along roadsides throughout the country. Lucerne's contribution to agricultural practices extends beyond its ornamental qualities; it serves as a valuable forage crop, providing nutrient-rich fodder for livestock and playing a role in enhancing soil fertility through nitrogen-fixing capabilities.
Lucerne, commonly referred to as alfalfa is renowned for its vibrant flowers rather than fruit-bearing structures. The plant produces spiral-coiled seed pods after the flowering phase, containing small seeds that contribute to its reproductive cycle. These seed pods, while not conventionally considered "fruit" in the botanical sense, are integral to the plant's propagation. The pods exhibit a unique coiled structure, showcasing the intricate design inherent to Lucerne's reproductive process. Although not a fruit-bearing species in the traditional sense, Lucerne's seed pods hold significance in the context of its life cycle and the cultivation of this versatile plant in various environments across the United Kingdom.
Lucerne, or alfalfa displays distinctive leaves that contribute to its recognisable appearance. The compound leaves consist of three leaflets, each possessing serrated edges, giving the foliage a textured and serrated appearance. The greenery is lush and vibrant, providing a verdant contrast to the plant's surroundings. Lucerne's leaves are intricately arranged along the stems, contributing to the overall elegance of the plant. These leaves play a crucial role in the plant's photosynthetic processes, capturing sunlight to facilitate the synthesis of nutrients. Lucerne's foliage, characterized by its trifoliate arrangement and serrated margins, not only enhances the plant's aesthetic appeal but also serves as a testament to its resilience and adaptability in varied environments across the United Kingdom.
Lucerne, also known as alfalfa does not possess a distinctive aroma that is typically associated with flowering plants. The fragrance of Lucerne is subtle and often goes unnoticed, as its primary characteristics lie in its vibrant purple blossoms and nutritional foliage rather than in aromatic compounds. In the United Kingdom, where Lucerne is cultivated in various habitats, the plant's scent is generally mild and unremarkable. The focus on Lucerne's appeal often centers around its visual presence in fields, meadows, and agricultural landscapes, rather than any notable olfactory attributes.
Other Names:
Alfalfa, Cultivated Alfalfa, Purple Lucerne, Purple Medick.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Medicago sativa sativa, also known as cultivated alfalfa, is a perennial forage and cover crop plant that is native to the Mediterranean region. It is known for its deep taproot, which allows it to access water and nutrients deep in the soil, and its high-protein leaves and seeds that are used as feed for livestock. The plant typically grows to a height of 1-2 meters and it's a legume, meaning it's capable of fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil through a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. This makes it a useful crop for improving soil health and fertility. It's widely cultivated in many parts of the world for forage, hay and silage production, it's also used for soil improvement.


Lucerne, also known as alfalfa or Medicago sativa sativa, is a legume that has been cultivated for thousands of years as a nutritious forage crop for livestock. It is widely grown in many regions of the world, including North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and is highly valued for its high protein and fiber content.

Lucerne is a perennial plant that can grow up to 2 meters tall and has a deep root system that can reach up to 5 meters in depth. It has small, blue-purple flowers that are highly attractive to bees, making it an important crop for honey production. The plant also has a unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, which can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers.

One of the key benefits of lucerne is its high nutritional value. It is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. The plant is also a good source of dietary fiber, which can help to support digestive health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

In addition to its nutritional benefits, lucerne is also an important crop for soil health and sustainable agriculture. As a legume, it has the ability to fix nitrogen into the soil, which can improve soil fertility and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. The deep root system of the plant can also help to improve soil structure and reduce soil erosion.

Lucerne is primarily used as a forage crop for livestock, including cattle, sheep, and horses. It can be harvested and stored as hay, silage, or green chop, and is highly valued for its palatability and digestibility. In addition to its use as a feed for livestock, lucerne can also be used as a cover crop to improve soil health, as a green manure crop to enrich soil fertility, and as a source of biomass for energy production.

Lucerne has been cultivated for thousands of years and has a rich history. It was originally native to the Mediterranean region and was widely grown by the ancient Greeks and Romans for use as a medicinal herb. In the Middle Ages, lucerne was used as a fodder crop for livestock and was also grown as a medicinal herb for humans.

Today, lucerne is grown in many different regions of the world and is used primarily as a forage crop for livestock. It is particularly important for dairy and beef cattle, as it is high in protein and fiber, which are important nutrients for these animals. Lucerne is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, which can help to maintain the health and productivity of livestock.

In addition to its use as a forage crop, lucerne is also an important crop for sustainable agriculture. The plant's ability to fix nitrogen into the soil can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, which can be expensive and can have negative environmental impacts. Lucerne is also a good source of biomass, which can be used for energy production.

Lucerne is also an important crop for honey production. The plant's small, blue-purple flowers are highly attractive to bees and can produce a high-quality honey that is valued for its unique flavor and nutritional properties.

Lucerne has also been studied for its potential health benefits for humans. The plant is a good source of dietary fiber, which can help to support digestive health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Lucerne is also rich in phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Lucerne has also been shown to have potential as a biofuel crop. As a fast-growing crop that can be harvested multiple times per year, it has the potential to provide a sustainable source of biomass for energy production. Additionally, lucerne has a relatively low lignin content, which makes it easier to convert into biofuels.

Lucerne has also been studied for its potential use in phytoremediation, which is the use of plants to remove pollutants from the environment. The plant has been shown to be effective at removing heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, from contaminated soil.

In terms of cultivation, lucerne is a relatively low-maintenance crop that can be grown on a wide range of soils. It prefers well-drained soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5, and can tolerate drought, heat, and cold temperatures. The plant can be propagated either by seed or by vegetative means, such as stem cuttings or root division.

However, like all crops, lucerne is not without its challenges. One potential issue with lucerne is the risk of bloat in livestock. Bloat occurs when the rumen, which is the first stomach of a ruminant animal, becomes filled with gas and expands, which can cause the animal to become ill or even die. Bloat can be caused by a number of factors, including a sudden change in diet or grazing on lucerne that has a high protein content.

Overall, lucerne is a highly versatile and valuable crop that has many different uses and benefits. Its high nutritional value, ability to fix nitrogen, and positive impact on soil health make it an important crop for sustainable agriculture and food production, while its potential use in biofuel production and phytoremediation highlight its versatility and potential for innovation.

20 Lucerne Facts

  1. Botanical Name: Medicago sativa
  2. Common Names: Lucerne, Alfalfa, Medicago
  3. Origin: Lucerne is native to southwestern Asia but is widely cultivated around the world.
  4. Uses: It is a forage crop commonly used as fodder for livestock, particularly cattle and horses.
  5. Nutritional Content: Lucerne is highly nutritious, rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
  6. Growing Conditions: It thrives in well-drained soil and is often used in crop rotation to improve soil fertility.
  7. Adaptability: Lucerne is known for its ability to grow in a variety of climates and soil types.
  8. Deep Root System: The plant has a deep taproot, which helps it access nutrients from deeper soil layers.
  9. Cultivation: Lucerne is commonly grown as a cover crop and for hay production.
  10. Drought Tolerance: It has a good tolerance for drought conditions due to its deep root system.
  11. Flowering: Lucerne produces clusters of small, purple flowers.
  12. Re-growth: It has the ability to re-grow after being cut, making it a valuable perennial crop.
  13. Hay Production: Lucerne is often harvested and dried to make alfalfa hay for livestock feed.
  14. Inoculation: It forms a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, enhancing soil fertility.
  15. Medicinal Uses: Lucerne has been used in traditional medicine for various health benefits.
  16. Soil Improvement: Its deep roots can help break up compacted soil.
  17. Crop Rotation: Farmers often use lucerne in crop rotation to improve soil structure and fertility.
  18. Green Manure: Lucerne is sometimes plowed back into the soil as green manure.
  19. Seed Pods: After flowering, lucerne produces spiral-coiled seed pods.
  20. Hay Quality: Lucerne hay is valued for its high nutritional content and is a staple in many livestock diets.


Lucerne filmed at Lytham St. Anne's in Lancashire the 12th June 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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