Medicago sativa - L.
Alfalfa
Other English Common Names: Lucerne
Other Common Names: alfalfa
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Medicago sativa L. (TSN 183623)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.143614
Element Code: PDFAB2G0A0
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Pea Family
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Fabales Fabaceae Medicago
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Medicago sativa
Taxonomic Comments: Native to SW Asia, and widely cultivated (Hortus).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: GNR
Global Status Last Changed: 22Mar1994
Rounded Global Status: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Nation: United States
National Status: NNA
Nation: Canada
National Status: NNA (10Oct2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Alabama (SNA), Alaska (SNA), Arizona (SNA), Arkansas (SNA), California (SNA), Colorado (SNA), Connecticut (SNA), Delaware (SNA), District of Columbia (SNA), Florida (SNA), Georgia (SNR), Hawaii (SNA), Idaho (SNA), Illinois (SNA), Indiana (SNA), Iowa (SNA), Kansas (SNA), Kentucky (SNA), Louisiana (SNA), Maine (SNA), Maryland (SNA), Massachusetts (SNR), Michigan (SNA), Minnesota (SNA), Mississippi (SNA), Missouri (SNA), Montana (SNA), Nebraska (SNA), Nevada (SNA), New Hampshire (SNA), New Jersey (SNA), New Mexico (SNA), New York (SNA), North Carolina (SNA), North Dakota (SNA), Ohio (SNA), Oklahoma (SNA), Oregon (SNA), Pennsylvania (SNA), Rhode Island (SNA), South Carolina (SNA), South Dakota (SNA), Tennessee (SNA), Texas (SNA), Utah (SNA), Vermont (SNA), Virginia (SNA), Washington (SNA), West Virginia (SNA), Wisconsin (SNA), Wyoming (SNA)
Canada Alberta (SNA), British Columbia (SNR), Labrador (SNA), Manitoba (SNA), New Brunswick (SNA), Newfoundland Island (SNA), Northwest Territories (SNA), Nova Scotia (SNA), Ontario (SNA), Prince Edward Island (SNA), Quebec (SNA), Saskatchewan (SNA), Yukon Territory (SNA)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The distribution shown may be incomplete, particularly for some rapidly spreading exotic species.

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AKexotic, ALexotic, ARexotic, AZexotic, CAexotic, COexotic, CTexotic, DCexotic, DEexotic, FLexotic, GA, HIexotic, IAexotic, IDexotic, ILexotic, INexotic, KSexotic, KYexotic, LAexotic, MA, MDexotic, MEexotic, MIexotic, MNexotic, MOexotic, MSexotic, MTexotic, NCexotic, NDexotic, NEexotic, NHexotic, NJexotic, NMexotic, NVexotic, NYexotic, OHexotic, OKexotic, ORexotic, PAexotic, RIexotic, SCexotic, SDexotic, TNexotic, TXexotic, UTexotic, VAexotic, VTexotic, WAexotic, WIexotic, WVexotic, WYexotic
Canada ABexotic, BC, LBexotic, MBexotic, NBexotic, NFexotic, NSexotic, NTexotic, ONexotic, PEexotic, QCexotic, SKexotic, YTexotic

Range Map
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Ecology & Life History Not yet assessed
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Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank)
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Disclaimer: While I-Rank information is available over NatureServe Explorer, NatureServe is not actively developing or maintaining these data. Species with I-RANKs do not represent a random sample of species exotic in the United States; available assessments may be biased toward those species with higher-than-average impact.

I-Rank: Insignificant
Rounded I-Rank: Insignificant
I-Rank Reasons Summary: Medicago sativa, Alfalfa, is a forage crop planted throughout the United States. It has escaped from cultivation in every state in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. While widespread, it doesn't appear to be an aggressive invader as all sources found described its habitat as 'disturbed places' or 'degraded'. This species, while uncommon most places where it has escaped, probably does have some impact on the ecosystem where it occurs due to its ability to fix nitrogen and increase the nitrogen mineralization rates in the soil. This could be detrimental to native species occurring nearby it that are not adapted to high nutrients loads. Further, this species doesn't seem to have any reproductive characters that make it well adapted to invading intact natural areas. Overall, this species though widespread is an insignificant threat to biodiversity.
Subrank I - Ecological Impact: Insignificant
Subrank II - Current Distribution/Abundance: Medium/Low
Subrank III - Trend in Distribution/Abundance: Low/Insignificant
Subrank IV - Management Difficulty: Insignificant
I-Rank Review Date: 30Jun2004
Evaluator: Oliver, L.
Native anywhere in the U.S?
Native Range: Medicago sativa is native to Europe and western Asia (Isely 1998).

Download "An Invasive Species Assessment Protocol: Evaluating Non-Native Plants for their Impact on Biodiversity". (PDF, 1.03MB)
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Screening Questions

S-1. Established outside cultivation as a non-native? YES
Comments: Alfalfa is established as a non-native species in every state in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii (Kartesz 1999).

S-2. Present in conservation areas or other native species habitat? No - Irank insignificant
Comments: This species has been documented from at least a few natural areas, and specifically, the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area in Kansas (Konza Prairie Research Natural Area) and the Ivy Creek Natural Area in Virginia (Wieboldt 1980).

Subrank I - Ecological Impact: Insignificant

1. Impact on Ecosystem Processes and System-wide Parameters:Low significance/Insignificant
Comments: While Medicago sativa is found in every state in the United States as an escape (Kartesz 1999), it doesn't appear to be an aggressive invader. As a member of the legume family, this species adds nitrogen into the soil where it occurs and aids soil nitrogen mineralization rates (Robles and Burke 1997). Where Medicago sativa is found in natural areas it probably does add nitrogen to the soil or at the very least affects the rate of mineralization, so it does alter the ecological processes. Its overall impacts on natural lands are probably low due to its infrequency outside of cultivation. It is assumed that this species, while widespread, is not highly abundant or aggressive due to the paucity of citations mentioning that it does occur in natural areas.

2. Impact on Ecological Community Structure:Low significance
Comments: Medicago sativa is an herbaceous perennial (Illinois Wildflower Info.) and affects at least one vegetative layer.

3. Impact on Ecological Community Composition:Low significance/Insignificant
Comments: Alfalfa doesn't appear to be an aggresive invader nor does it appear to be highly abundant, even though it is widespread. Only a very few reports were found that cite this species in a natural area. It is possible that since this species does have the capability to alter the nitrogen content in the soil (Robles and Burke 1997) that it could outcompete other species not adapted to high or elevated levels of nutrients. It is not suspected, however, that this occurs very often as no reports of this species forming mono specific stands or even occuring abundantly in natural areas were found. It is worth mentioning that M. sativa is described as 'cosmopolitan' in Utah where it is found in every county (Welsh et al. 1993), but this is presumably because of its use as a forage species for cattle and other domestic animals.

4. Impact on Individual Native Plant or Animal Species:Insignificant
Comments: There are no known reports that Alfalfa impacts a particular native species.

5. Conservation Significance of the Communities and Native Species Threatened:Insignificant
Comments: In every flora examined that mentions this species, it is described as occurring in distrubed places (Hansen and Wunderlin 2003, Haines and Vining 1998, Isley 1990, Isely 1998), so presumaby it doesn't threatened rare plants or ecological communities.

Subrank II. Current Distribution and Abundance: Medium/Low

6. Current Range Size in Nation:High significance
Comments: Alfalfa or Lucerne occurs in every state in the United States including Alaska and Hawaii (Kartesz 1999).

7. Proportion of Current Range Where the Species is Negatively Impacting Biodiversity:Insignificant
Comments: No reports were found that this species is having negative affects on biodiversity. Only two reports were found that this species occurs in natural areas (Konza Prairie Research Natural Area in Kansas and Ivey Creek Natural Area in Virginia), however, it is suspected that it does occur in other natural areas in the United States but not as a dominant member of the community. Welsh et al. 1993 noted that this species is 'cosmopolitan' and occurring in every county in Utah and presumably because its the most important forage crop for domestic animals.

8. Proportion of Nation's Biogeographic Units Invaded:High significance
Comments: This species is an escaped non-native species in every state in the United States, and therefore occurs in many ecoregions (TNC 2001).

9. Diversity of Habitats or Ecological Systems Invaded in Nation:Low significance/Insignificant
Comments: Medicago sativa occurs mostly in distrubed habitats, but has been recorded in degraded prairies, degraded meadows near rivers and woodlands, abandoned fields (Illinois Wildflowers Info.).

Subrank III. Trend in Distribution and Abundance: Low/Insignificant

10. Current Trend in Total Range within Nation:Low significance
Comments: The trend of this species probably stable with areas of contraction balancing areas of expansion. Nearly all floras examined mention that this species is rare or uncommon (Haines and Vining 1998, Isley 1990, Hansen and Wunderlin 2003, Isley 1998), even though it has escaped from cultivation in every state in the United States (Kartesz 1999). It may be spreading in Illinois and Utah as the floras from those states mention that it is common and found in all counties of the states (Mohlenbrock 1986, Welsh et al. 1993). With that said, one source in Illinois notes that "this species preferes disturbed habitats, and si not a major invader of high quality natural areas" (Wildflower Info.).

11. Proportion of Potential Range Currently Occupied:Insignificant
Comments: Since this species has escaped from cultivation in every state in the United States (Kartesz 1999), it can't expand any further in the US.

12. Long-distance Dispersal Potential within Nation:Medium/Low significance
Comments: This species definitely does disperse long distances with human intervention since it is planted in many states as a forage crop.

13. Local Range Expansion or Change in Abundance:Low significance
Comments: Most evidence suggests that while this species is present in every state in the US, it is not an aggressive invader, and prefers disturbed sites. It may be locally expanding in Illinois and Utah as the floras from those states suggest that the species is more common there (Mohlenbrock 1986, Welsh et al. 1993). In fact, Welsh et al. 1993 describe it as 'cosmopolitan' in Utah, however, this doesn't necessarily mean that it is expanding and/or increasing in abundance.

14. Inherent Ability to Invade Conservation Areas and Other Native Species Habitats:Insignificant
Comments: This species is recorded in most sources as invading disturbed sites (Haines and Vining 1998, Isley 1990, Hansen and Wunderlin 2003, Isley 1998). One source from Illinois mention that this species also invades degraded prairies, and degraded meadows near rivers and woodlands (Wildflowers Info.). It does apparently have the ability to self sow (Wildflowers Info.), but is a poor invader of intact conservation areas.

15. Similar Habitats Invaded Elsewhere:Unknown

16. Reproductive Characteristics:Insignificant
Comments: No information was found suggesting this species has reproductive characteristics of an aggressive invader.

Subrank IV. General Management Difficulty: Insignificant

17. General Management Difficulty:Insignificant
Comments: Based on the little information found, this species doesn't seem to be worth managing for given its preference for disturbed places and poor ability to invade intact conservation areas, even though it occurs throughout the US.

18. Minimum Time Commitment:Insignificant
Comments: See comments for question 17.

19. Impacts of Management on Native Species:Insignificant
Comments: See comments for question 17.

20. Accessibility of Invaded Areas:Insignificant
Comments: See comments for question 17.
Authors/Contributors
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Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Alfalfa. Medicago sativa. Bean family (Fabaceae). Online at: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/alfalfa.htm. Accessed on: 6/29/04.

  • Haines, A. and T.F. Vining. 1998. Flora of Maine, A Manual for Identification of Native and Naturalized Vascular Plants of Maine. V.F.Thomas Co., Bar Harbor, Maine.

  • Isely, D. 1990. Vascular flora of the southeastern United States. Vol. 3, Part 2. Leguminosae (Fabaceae). Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 258 pp.

  • Isely, D. 1998. Native and naturalized Leguminosae (Fabaceae) of the United States (exclusive of Alaska and Hawaii). Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, Brigham Young University; MLBM Press, Provo, Utah. 1007 pp.

  • Kansas State University. No date. List of vascular plants on Konza Prairie research natural area. Online at: http://www.konza.ksu.edu/data_catalog/flora_fauna/plant2.html. Accessed on June 29, 2004.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1996. Species distribution data at state and province level for vascular plant taxa of the United States, Canada, and Greenland (accepted records), from unpublished data files at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, December, 1996.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Mohlenbrock, R.H. 1986. Guide to the vascular flora of Illinois. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois. 507 pp.

  • Robles, M. D. and I. C. Burke. 1997. Legume, grass, and conservation reserve program effects on soil organic matter recovery. Ecological Applications 7(2): 345-357.

  • Welsh, S.L., N.D. Atwood, S. Goodrich, and L.C. Higgins (eds.) 1993. A Utah flora. 2nd edition. Brigham Young Univ., Provo, Utah. 986 pp.

  • Wieboldt, T. 1980. Vascular Flora of the Ivy Creek. Online at: http://avenue.org/icf/VascularFlora.html. Accessed on 6/29/2004.

  • Wunderlin, R.P. and B.F. Hansen. 2003. Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida. 2nd edition. University Press of Florida, Tampa. 788 pp.

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