Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) previous to its introduction into

California, from Chili, about the middle of the last century, was

usually known by the French name Lucerne. The name Alfalfa is probably

Arabic in its origin, and the term Lucerne has probably been given to it

from the Canton Lucerne in Switzerland. It has followed the plant into

Spain and South America, and now it seems probable that soon it will be

known by no other name over all the United States and Canada. It has

also been known by names applied to it from various countries for which

it has shown high adaptation, as, for instance, Sicilian Clover, Mexican

Clover, Chilian Clover, Brazilian Clover, Styrian Clover and Burgundy

Clover. In yet other instances, names have been applied to it indicative

of some peculiarity of growth, as, for instance, Branching Clover,

Perennial Clover, Stem Clover and Monthly Clover.

Alfalfa is upright and branching in its habit of growth, more so than

the common varieties of clover. It usually grows to the height of 2 to 3

feet, but it has been known to reach a much greater height. Although

possessed of a single stem when the plants are young, the number of the

stems increases up to a certain limit, with the age of the plants and

the number of the cuttings. Forty to fifty stalks frequently grow up

from the crown of a single plant where the conditions are quite

favorable to growth, and in some instances as many as a hundred. The

leaves are not large, but numerous, and in the curing of the plants they

drop off much more easily than those of the more valuable of the

clovers. The flowers are borne toward the top of the stems and branches,

and they are in a long cluster, rather than in a compact head. They are

usually of a bluish tint, but the shades of the color vary with the

strain from blue to pink and yellow. The seeds are borne in spirally

coiled pods. They resemble those of red clover in size, but are less

uniform in shape. The color should be a light olive green. The tap roots

go down deeply into the soil and subsoil where the conditions as to

texture and moisture are favorable. It has been claimed that alfalfa

roots have gone down into congenial subsoils 40 to 50 feet, but usually

less, probably, than one-fourth of the distances mentioned would measure

the depths to which the roots go. And with decreasing porosity in the

subsoil, there will be decrease in root penetration until it will reach

in some instances not more than 3 to 4 feet. But where the roots are

thus hindered from going deeper, they branch out more in their search

for food.

Alfalfa is perennial. In the duration of its growth, no fodder plant

grown under domestication will equal it. It has been known, it is

claimed, to produce profitable crops for half a century. In some of the

Western States are meadows from 25 to 40 years old. Ordinarily,

however, the season of profitable growth is not more than, say, 6 to 12

years when grown on upland soils. The meadows usually become more or

less weedy or possessed by various grasses, and some of the plants die.

The plants at first send up a single stem. When this matures or is cut

back the uncut portion of the stem dies down to the crown of the plant,

which then sends out other stems. This is repeated as often as the stems

are cut down until many stems grow up from one plant as indicated above,

unless the plants are so crowded that such multiplication is more or

less hindered. The plants grow rapidly as soon as spring arrives, and as

often as cut off they at once spring again into vigorous life, where the

conditions are favorable to such growth; hence, from one to twelve

cuttings of soiling may be obtained in a single season, the former

result being obtained in arid climates, where the conditions are

unpropitious, and the latter being possible only in congenial soils,

where the winters are very mild and where the soils are irrigated.

Usually, however, even on upland soils and in the absence of irrigation,

not fewer than 3 to 5 cuttings of soiling food are obtained each year

and not fewer than 2 to 4 crops of hay.

A number of varieties so called are grown in this country. They differ

from each other more, however, in their adaptation in essential

properties relating to the quality of the pasture and fodder produced,

than in the quality of food product obtained from them. The variety

commonly grown from seed produced in the West is usually spoken of

simply as alfalfa, while that grown from seed European in origin has

been more commonly called Lucerne. The former of these has a tendency to

grow taller than the latter and to send its roots down to a greater

depth. In addition to these, such strains as the Turkestan, the Rhenish,

the Minnesota and Sand Lucerne have been introduced.

The Turkestan variety was introduced by the United States Department of

Agriculture during recent years. It was brought from provinces beyond

the Caspian in Russia, Asia. The object sought was to introduce a

variety that would better withstand the rigors of a climate dry in

summer and cold in winter than the variety commonly grown. Some strains

of this variety have proved drought resistant to a remarkable degree. It

has also shown itself capable of enduring without injury temperatures so

low as to result in the destruction of plants of the common variety. In

trials made by growers in North Dakota and Northern Minnesota, it has

been found able to endure the winter's cold in these areas. But it has

also been found that while the plants produced some seed in the Central

Mountain States, they did not produce much seed when grown in the

Northern States. Unless seed can be secured from plants grown in the

latter in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of growers, it is

feared that in time some of the hardy characteristics of this variety

will be lost if the Central and Southern Mountain States must be relied

upon as the American sources of seed supplies.

The Rhenish strain comes from Central Europe. It has been highly

commended by some European seedsmen for its hardihood, but it has been

as yet grown to only a limited extent in America. The Minnesota strain

was doubtless brought to Carver County by German farmers, by whom it has

been grown in the neighborhood of Lake Waconia for nearly 20 years. It

has been found much hardier than the common variety when grown in that

neighborhood, and the endurance of plants grown from seed of this strain

far northward has been very pronounced. As this variety produces

reasonably good seed crops in Central Minnesota, it would seem

reasonable to expect that it will become popular in Northern areas. Sand

Lucerne, which comes from Central Europe, has considerable adaptation

for poor and light soils, and in trials made at the Michigan experiment

station was found possessed of distinctive merit for such soils.

Where alfalfa can be grown freely, it is unexcelled as a pasture for

swine, and is in favor also as a pasture for horses. While cattle and

sheep grazed upon it are exceedingly fond of it, the danger that it will

produce bloat in them is so frequently present as to greatly neutralize

its value for such a use. It is a favorite pasture for fowls. In

furnishing soiling food where it produces freely, it is without an equal

in all the United States. It is highly relished by all kinds of farm

animals, not excluding rabbits and goats, and when fed judiciously may

be fed in this form with perfect safety. Its high value in producing

such food rests on its productiveness, its high palatability and the

abundant nutrition which it contains. As a hay crop, it is greatly

prized. Even swine may be wintered in a large measure on cured alfalfa


As a fertilizer, the value of alfalfa will be largely dependent on the

use that is made of the plants. When pastured or fed upon the farm, the

fertility resulting being put back upon the land, it ranks highly as a

producer of fertility. But this question is further discussed on page

191. As a destroyer of weeds much will depend upon the way in which it

is grown. This question also is discussed again. (See page 185.)

Adaptation In Clovers Alfalfa As A Fertilizer facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail