Medicago sativa (Alfalfa)

Plant Info
Also known as: Purple Medick
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:annual, short-lived perennial
  • Weedy
Habitat:sun; roadsides, waste areas, disturbed sites, dry fields
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: UPL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: round

[photo of flowers] Round or short cylindrical cluster of 5 to 30 flowers at the end of long stalks that arise from the upper leaf axils, the cluster stalk longer than the subtending leaf stalk. Flowers are about 1/3 inch long, pea-shaped with an erect upper petal (standard) that is taller than wide and streaked with darker lines especially near the base. The 2 small lateral petals are spreading, exposing the keel between them. Flower color ranges from pale lavender to deep violet, or sometimes yellow or even white depending on the subspecies. The calyx has 5 narrow teeth about as long as the calyx tube. At the base of the short flower stalk is a narrow leaf-like bract about as long as the stalk.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in 3s, each leaflet up to 1 inch long and 1/3 inch wide, widest at or above the middle and tapering at the base. Leaflets may be sparsely hairy on the underside and have a few small teeth at the tip end. Leaf color is olive to blue-green and there is a chevron pattern of light green lines on the surface. Stems are erect to ascending, much branched, weakly 4-angled and hairless to sparsely hairy.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a coiled pod with 2 to 4 spirals, up to 1/3 inch diameter, turning brown when ripe and containing up to 10 yellowish to brown seeds.


Alfalfa is a cultivated crop that escaped and now commonly grows along roads, degraded fields and other disturbed areas. While the leaves are very similar to the also-weedy Sweet-clover (Melilotus spp.), Alfalfa flowers are rather larger and the cluster rather shorter and more compact. Minnesota recognizes 2 subspecies of Medicago sativa in the state: subsp. sativa and subsp. falcata, the latter of which has yellow flowers and pods that are merely curved and not spiraled multiple times. This is treated as a separate species, Medicago falcata, in a number of references.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Hubbard and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Hubbard counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Nancy - Cook County
on: 2010-07-04 11:01:10

On the roadside of Old Gunflint Trail; road to Iron Lake Campground. July 3rd, 2010.

Posted by: Stephanie - Oakdale
on: 2011-09-06 14:47:46

Saw TONS of this along Hwy 5 in Oakdale yesterday while on a walk. Dark purple, light purple and yellow.

Posted by: Donna - Hibbing
on: 2015-09-17 01:36:07

On the roadside near railroad tracks

Posted by: Mark - Chippewa County
on: 2016-08-09 15:50:46

Widespread in restored prairie areas on private grazing land

Posted by: luciearl - Lake Shore
on: 2021-07-31 22:02:20

Growing off the walking trail in Lake Shore. Sigh, another non-native wildflower after finishing the trail.

Posted by: Gail Bird - Itasca County
on: 2023-07-04 14:05:32

Along rural county road side. Itasca Co.

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