Sand Lucerne

Sand Lucerne (Medicago media), sometimes designated Medicago

falcata, is probably simply a variety of the common alfalfa (Medicago

sativa). Some botanists, however, look upon these as two distinct

species. Others believe that Medicago sativa, with blossoms ranging

from blue to violet purple, and Medicago falcata, with yellow

blossoms, are two distinct species, while Medicago media, with

blossoms ranging from bluish and purple to lemon yellow, is a hybrid

between these. The name Sand Lucerne has doubtless been given to this

plant because of the power which it has to grow in sandy soils.

Sand lucerne is so nearly like common alfalfa in appearance and habits

of growth, that until the blossoming season, careless observers cannot

distinguish between the plants. (See page 114.) Sand lucerne, however,

has a more spreading habit of growth than common alfalfa, the seed-pods

are less coiled and the seeds are lighter. The root system is strong and

the roots are probably more branched than those of ordinary alfalfa.

Under Michigan experience, given in Bulletin No. 198 of the Michigan

Experiment Station, it has shown considerably higher adaptation to

light, sandy and gravelly soils than the former. The feeding properties

of sand lucerne would not seem to be far different from those of common

alfalfa (see page 119), but it is claimed that the former is

considerably less liable to produce bloat in cattle and sheep than the


Sand lucerne is probably native to Europe and Asia. Some attention is

given to growing it in Germany, the principal source from which comes

supplies of seed at the present time. It was introduced into Michigan by

the experiment station of that State in 1897, and its behavior in

several trials made to grow it on sandy and gravelly soils in various

places, has, on the whole, been encouraging.

Since this variety, like the Turkestan, being considerably hardier than

common alfalfa, can undoubtedly be grown further north than the latter,

there would seem to be no reasons at the same time why sand lucerne

would not grow satisfactorily on sandy soils that lie far south, but

this does not seem as yet to have been proved by actual demonstration.

It is possible, therefore, that this plant may render considerable

service to areas scattered over considerable portions of the United

States and Canada, in which the soil is light.

While sand lucerne has higher adaptation than common alfalfa for sandy

and gravelly soils, it does not follow that it has equal adaptation for

being grown on ordinary alfalfa soils. No advantage, however, would

result from growing sand lucerne where common alfalfa will grow equally

well, as it is not superior to the latter as a food, if, indeed, it is

equal to the same, and there would be a distinct disadvantage in the

greater cost of the seed of sand lucerne.

Sand lucerne is not any more a rotation plant than the common variety.

In fact, it is even less so, since it would not be practicable to

introduce it into short rotations when grown in northerly latitudes, as

it does not reach a maximum growth for several years after the seed has

been sown. But in mild latitudes, it may be found practicable to

introduce it into short rotations, like other alfalfa (see page 135),

and on land that is too sandy to grow the common variety in the best


Much of what has been said about the preparation of the soil for common

alfalfa will equally apply to the preparation of the same for sand

lucerne. (See page 137.) But when the latter is sown on sandy or

gravelly land, a moist condition of the seed-bed at the time of sowing

is even more important than when sowing common alfalfa under ordinary


The same methods of sowing the seed will be in order as are suitable for

sowing common alfalfa in any particular locality. (See page 147.) This

will mean that in Northern areas sand lucerne can best be sown in the

spring and as early as the danger from frost is over, that the plants

may get as much benefit as possible from the moisture in the soil before

dry weather begins. It will also mean that if sown southward in the

autumn, it may in some instances be necessary to wait longer for the

sandy soils on which the seed is sown to become sufficiently moist to

sprout the seed than for such a condition in soils on which common

alfalfa is usually sown. The amounts of seed to sow will also be

practically the same. (See page 152.)

The adaptation of sand lucerne for providing pasture is as high, if not,

indeed, higher, than that of common alfalfa, since it is said that it

has less tendency to produce bloat in cattle and sheep, and it is not

so easily destroyed, at least in Northern areas, by grazing. In

providing pasture, its higher adaptation is in furnishing the same for

cattle, swine and horses.

With ample moisture, even as far north as Lansing, Michigan, three crops

of hay may ordinarily be looked for. At the Michigan Experiment Station,

sand lucerne sown in 1897 yielded cured: In 1898, at the rate of 6800

pounds per acre; in 1899, 10,580 pounds; in 1900, 12,310 pounds; and in

1901, 13,839 pounds. The methods of cutting and curing are the same as

for other varieties of alfalfa. (See page 170.) The quality of the hay

is not far different from that of common alfalfa. If there is a

difference, it would, perhaps, be a little against the sand lucerne,

owing to the nature of the land producing it. For soiling food, it may

be handled in the same way as common alfalfa. (See page 166.)

No further information would seem to be available with reference to the

production of seed in the United States than the statement that the

efforts to grow it in Michigan had not been altogether successful. The

question thus raised has an important bearing on the future growth of

the plant, as, if seed is to be imported from Europe when sand lucerne

is to be sown, the expense of securing seed is likely to militate

against extending its growth. It is probable, however, that this

difficulty will be overcome through the more perfect acclimation of the

plants in the North, or by growing seed from the same in Western areas

which have shown higher adaptation to the production of alfalfa seed.

The value of sand lucerne in fertilizing sandy and gravelly soils in

this country may yet be very considerable. Its value in putting humus

into the same may prove equally high. This value will arise chiefly from

its greater ability to grow on such soils than various other legumes.

When sown primarily for such a use, heavy seeding would seem to be

preferable to ordinary seeding.

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