Plant Guide > Grasses > Variegated Alfalfa

Variegated Alfalfa

VARIEGATED ALFALFA (Medicago falcata L. X sativa L.)

Other Latin names: Medicago media Pers., M. silvestris Fr.

Other English name: Sand Lucerne.

Botanical description:

Yellow Lucerne, as indicated above, is closely related to Alfalfa, and the two species have in fact been regarded by some authors as only one, chiefly because there are intermediates between them which seem to make separation difficult or even impossible. These may all be included under the general name Variegated Alfalfa. There is, however, no doubt that Yellow Lucerne and Alfalfa are two distinct species which can be readily distinguished by the colour of their flowers and the shape of their fruits. Variegated Alfalfa, which might seem to contradict this statement, is not a variety of either Alfalfa or of Yellow Lucerne. It is a cross product of the two species, just as the mule is a cross product of the horse and the ass.

On account of its hybrid origin, Variegated Alfalfa is like Alfalfa in some ways and in others is like Yellow Lucerne. It is generally easily distinguished by its flowers. Being a cross between a yellow and a purple species, its flowers are a mixture of yellow and purple. The blend results in a peculiar dirty yellowish green colour, which is characteristic of the great bulk of the primary hybrid, or the product obtained by crossing pure Alfalfa and pure Yellow Lucerne.

In a field of Variegated Alfalfa, however, the flowers are found in all colours from yellow to dark greenish purple, depending to some extent on their stage of development; the same flower generally changes its colour with age, so all shades may be represented in one plant. The chief cause of the variation, however, is the manner in which the blossoms are fertilized. Variegated Alfalfa is unlike most other hybrid plants in being fertile; it is able to produce an abundance of seed of good quality.

The flowers of any plant of the primary hybrid may be fertilized in many different ways; for instance, by other flowers of the same plant, by flowers of another primary hybrid, or by flowers of pure Alfalfa if it grows in the neighbourhood. In any of these cases, the result will be a blending or re-combination of the original colours.


Variegated Alfalfa occurs naturally where ordinary Alfalfa and Yellow Lucerne grow together.

Cultural conditions:

It is of agricultural Value only where the climate is too severe or the soil too poor for ordinary Alfalfa, as it inherits some of the hardiness of Yellow Lucerne. Its European name, Sand Lucerne, indicates that it is suitable for poor, dry soil.
Climate: Its fame has been established by its ability to stand severe cold better than ordinary Alfalfa, which makes it of particular interest to Canada.

Agricultural value:

The value of the primary hybrid for fodder is inferior to that of the ordinary Alfalfa; the yield is lower and the feeding quality is not so good. The decumbent growth which it often inherits from Yellow Lucerne affects both yield and quality. The danger of lodging is greater than with ordinary Alfalfa, especially where the growth is rank. Its spreading habit makes it more difficult to cut, the mower being often unable to get below the stems.


On account of its hybrid origin, Variegated Alfalfa varies ertremely. There are many commercial "varieties" of a somewhat different agricultural value. The most famous and at present undoubtedly the most important of these is Grimm's Alfalfa, which is hardy for the Alfalfa-growing districts of Canada and the northern United States. Of special interest for Canada is Canadian Variegated Alfalfa, which, according to experiments conducted by Prof. C. A. Zavitz at the Ontario Agricultural College, is equal to Grimm's Alfalfa and decidedly hardier than any ordinary variety.
Grimm's and Canadian Variegated Alfalfa, like all other varieties of Variegated Alfalfa, are by no means uniform but include plants of very different value. Some of them are like ordinary Alfalfa in growth and yield, others are like Yellow Lucerne. On account of this variation, there are great possibilities of obtaining by selection high-yielding varieties that will combine the desirable qualities of true Alfalfa with the hardiness of Yellow Lucerne.