Forage Identification: Alfalfa

Department of Plant Sciences

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)


This widely adapted perennial legume is grown in every state in the US. Alfalfa does best on soils with fine to medium textures that are moderately to well drained and neutral or higher in pH.  It tolerates drought but not prolonged flooding, and cultivars range from non-dormant to very winter hardy.

alfalfa plant blooming

Growth Habitat:

Perennial, erect, grows 24 to 36 inches tall.
Deep taproot.

alfalfa flowers

Plant Characteristics: 

Trifoliate leaves, with long narrow leaflets serrated at the tips. Stipules are large anointed. Flower is commonly purple but may vary among shades of white, yellow and purple. Deep taproot.

alfalfa plant

Seed Characteristics:

Kidney shaped. Yellow to greenish-yellow, browning with age. Alfalfa seeds are darker than Yellow sweetclover.

alfalfa seeds

Important Identifying Characteristics:

Purple flowers, long narrow leaf with serrated tip.

alfalfa leaf

Primary Uses: 

Hay, silage and pasture. High in protein, vitamin A, minerals, and digestible energy and is favored for dairy cattle and horses.

alfalfa vs clover


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