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Where and when did Alfalfa enter North America? Brough, Robison, and Jackson offer us good answers in their, "The Historical Diffusion of Alfalfa".

"For nearly a century authorities have promulgated the view that alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.), being brought from Chile (from Spanish origin) into California, spread mainly eastward from California to Utah and then, from Utah-grown seed, to parts of central and eastern North America. This view is not entirely correct. The introduction of alfalfa into Utah was one of multiple origins, with the main source of Utah seed being the "winter-hardy" kind which came from the British Isles. This source of alfalfa seed into and throughout the USA was British (to Utah) based, rather than Spanish (to Chile to California to Utah) based. Thus, alfalfa from the British Isles, and not from Spain, is the main progenitor of early alfalfa development throughout the USA.

Alfalfa first entered Utah under the name "lucern" with the first seed coming from England and being planted in Salt Lake City in 1850."

Earlier introductions took place in eastern North America in 1736 and 1739 and in western North America in 1836. See the map on page 18 of the Brough et al. article.

This is a non-native invasive species.

Medicago sativa

Medicago sativa (Alfalfa)
Fabaceae (Pea Family)

Foothills, montane. Fields, openings. Spring, summer, fall.
Left and below: Near Yellowjacket Canyon, June 6, 2004, September 10, 2014, and July 29, 2020.

This soft, lovely flower is so common as to go unnoticed. Alfalfa is grown as a crop of course ("sativa" is Greek for "planted"), but it also makes a beautiful yard or garden plant. It is very drought resistant and long and prolific in its flowering.  Plants grow to several feet tall and wide and bloom from late spring through fall.  Flower color is commonly very light to very deep purple, but it may be white or even (as shown below) yellow.

Seeds are contained in twisted pods that turn from green to light-then-dark brown. Notice that even with ripening seeds, the plant continues flowering.

Linnaeus named this genus of about five dozen Eurasian species in 1753.  It is believed that over 3,000 years ago Medicago sativa was first cultivated in, and named for, the ancient country of Media (presently northwest Iran).

                                               Medicago sativa

Medicago sativa (Alfalfa)
Fabaceae (Pea Family)

Foothills, montane. Fields, openings. Spring, summer, fall.
Near Yellowjacket Canyon, June 6, 2004.

Medicago sativa
Medicago sativa (Alfalfa)
Fabaceae (Pea Family)
 

Foothills, montane. Fields, openings. Spring, summer, fall.
Near McPhee Reservoir, July 13, 2010.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Medicago sativa