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Alfalfa at Crown Beach, CA. ©2014 Robert Sikora.


SPECIES: Medicago sativa
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Sullivan, Janet. 1992. Medicago sativa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : MEDSAT SYNONYMS : Medicago sativa forma alba Benke. [37] NRCS PLANT CODE [116] : MESA MESAC2 MESAF MESAG2 MESAS MESAT COMMON NAMES : alfalfa lucerne luzerne snailclover purple medick yellow alfalfa TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for alfalfa is Medicago sativa L. Alfalfa is considered a species complex, with many subspecies. Diploid and tetraploid forms are both common, though all alfalfa cultivars are tetraploid [100]. Subspecies that may occur in North America are [116]: Medicago sativa L. subsp. caerulea (Less. ex Ledeb.) Schmalh Medicago sativa L. subsp. falcata (L.) Arcang., yellow alfalfa Medicago sativa L. subsp. glomerata (Balb.) Rouy Medicago sativa subsp. sativa Medicago sativa L. subsp. × tunetana Murb. Medicago sativa readily hybridizes with Siberian alfalfa (Medicago falcata). The intermediate form, variegated alfalfa, is named Medicago sativa media [37]. Some authors consider the hybrid a separate species, Medicago media [50,110,113]. An alternatively used name for the hybrid is Medicago x varia Martyn, or M. s. subsp. x varia (Martyn) Arcang. [100,129]. LIFE FORM : Forb FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Medicago sativa
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Alfalfa originated in southwestern Asia, was first cultivated in Iran, and now has a worldwide distribution due to its popularity as an agricultural species. It was introduced into the United States in 1736 in Georgia, but it was not until around 1850 that it began to be more widely planted. It is planted in all 50 states and is widely planted in Canada. It is naturalized in many areas [12,37,50,95]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES10 White - red - jack pine FRES11 Spruce - fir FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine FRES14 Oak - pine FRES15 Oak - hickory FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood FRES18 Maple - beech - birch FRES19 Aspen - birch FRES20 Douglas-fir FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES22 Western white pine FRES23 Fir - spruce FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce FRES25 Larch FRES26 Lodgepole pine FRES27 Redwood FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES31 Shinnery FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub FRES35 Pinyon - juniper FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES40 Desert grasslands FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands STATES : AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY AB BC MB NF NT NS ON PE PQ SK YT MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : Occurs in most Kuchler Plant Associations SAF COVER TYPES : Occurs in most SAF Cover Types SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : Occurs in most SRM Cover Types HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Medicago sativa
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Alfalfa is consumed by most herbivores and omnivores, including all classes of livestock and big game animals. It is valued for rehabilitation of overgrazed ranges in part because it begins growth early and retains green succulence later than grasses [111]. Graham [45] reported that 27 species of birds and 46 species of mammals are known to use alfalfa. Birds utilizing the leaves, flowers, or seeds include sage grouse, sharptailed grouse, pheasant, California quail, gray partridge, American wigeon, mallard, and little brown crane [88,104,111]. Alfalfa is consumed by juvenile prairie chickens in summer, composing up to 7 percent of crop volume [101]. The seeds are consumed by rodents, rabbits, upland birds, waterfowl, and songbirds. They are a preferred food for deer mice in Nevada [35]. Alfalfa is a source of nectar and pollen for insects [111,114]. Many small mammals, including jackrabbits, marmots, pocket gophers, prairie dogs, various ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, and mice graze alfalfa. Pocket gophers consume roots [45,111]. Stands containing alfalfa are a preferred location for brood rearing by Canada geese. They nest elsewhere, then bring the brood to these sites, apparently for both food and cover [48]. The gray partridge is often found nesting in agricultural lands containing alfalfa [11]. Alfalfa is rated as highly valuable for elk in summer and fall, but it is not used as food in winter and spring [1,6,67,111]. Alfalfa use by mule deer and white-tailed deer is highest in summer and fall [1,6,26,108,111]. Mule deer in the Great Basin sagebrush formation in California will use small amounts of alfalfa through the winter [68]. Alfalfa is a highly preferred species for pronghorn in the summer. Does and fawns were found at greater frequency on sites planted with alfalfa mixtures than on adjacent shrub-dominated rangeland [111,127]. Moose will consume alfalfa in summer, and bighorn sheep consume alfalfa in winter and spring [6,92]. PALATABILITY : Alfalfa is highly palatable to all classes of livestock and big game species [27,32,50,110]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE : Alfalfa is considered one of the most nutritious forages available, producing more protein per hectare than any other crop. It is considered an important source of vitamin A, and of 10 other vitamins as well [12,23,50,60]. White and Wight [122] found that pasture yield had an inverse relationship to forage quality: the higher the density, the lower the crude protein (CP) and dry matter digestibility. Phenological stage accounts for 97 percent of the variation in neutral detergent fiber and in vitro dry matter digestibility: nutritive value decreased with maturity [103]. There have been numerous studies on the nutritive value of fresh alfalfa, as hay, pelleted, and ensiled. A selection of values for some characteristics is as follows [9,38,110]: CP(%) available P(%) dry matter acid detergent STAGE CP(%) digestibility(%) fiber(%) _____________________________________________________________________ vegetative 32.8 31.8 0.44 84 18.1 flower 29.2 28 0.38 79 21.7 mature 25.6 24.2 0.32 74 25.3 regrowth 22.0 20.2 0.26 69 28.9 [38] Digestible protein (%) for selected species is as follows [82]: dried vegetative early bloom ________________________________________ Cattle 12 15.1 Sheep 12 15.3 Goats 12.4 14.6 Horses 11.9 14 Rabbits 11.6 13.6 Further detailed information is available in The Atlas of Nutritional Data on United States and Canadian feeds [82]. Regional food values for selected wildlife species are as follows [27]: UT CO WY MT ND Elk good good good good good Mule deer good good good good good White-tailed deer ---- good good good good Antelope good good good good good Upland game birds good ---- good ---- fair Waterfowl good ---- good ---- good Small non-game birds good ---- good good fair Small mammals good ---- good good fair COVER VALUE : Dabbling ducks (mallards, gadwalls, blue-winged teals, northern pintail, northern shovelers, American green-winged teals, and American wigeons) will use haylands for nesting, although this is not the most preferred nesting cover. Over 80 percent of nests found in haylands are found in alfalfa, which is highly attractive to mallards and gadwalls after it has reached half of its mature height and density [16,64,73]. Sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens prefer early seral vegetation, such as retired crop and haylands that contain alfalfa, for courtship grounds [63,83]. Areas in the cropland adjustment program (CAP), in which seeded grasses and legumes (particularly alfalfa) are left for wildlife habitat, are used for food and cover by a variety of birds, including pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, greater prairie chicken, American bitterns, marsh hawks, short-eared owls, and many passerine birds [30]. Regional cover values of alfalfa for selected wildlife species are as follows [27]: UT CO WY MT ND Elk ---- poor ---- poor ---- Mule deer poor ---- poor ---- good White-tailed deer ---- poor good good ---- Antelope poor fair poor good good Upland game birds good good good good good Waterfowl fair ---- good ---- good Small nongame birds good good good good good Small mammals good good good good good VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Alfalfa is widely used for rehabilitation of overgrazed rangelands. It is recommended for improvement of both wildlife habitat and livestock ranges in many areas, especially in the drier western states [32,77,106,114,127]. Many authors report at least short-term forage yield increases when rangelands are seeded with alfalfa and grass mixtures [42,71,99]. It is used in interior forests as part of erosion-control projects. Compacted soils also benefit from alfalfa in plantings because alfalfa has deep roots that will grow vigorously in compacted soils. There is a general concern about introducing species into ecosystems; however, nitrogen-fixing species can be a way to facilitate invasion of native plants that have higher soil nutrient requirements than are present [33]. Under suitable conditions alfalfa can survive and increase on rangeland in Utah for 10 years or more [58]. It has been found to be long-lived and productive in semiarid pastures, persisting for 25 years or more, with successful self-seeding at rates sufficient to replace mature plants dying from disease, rodent damage, or environmental stress [96]. It reseeds on sites with as little as 11 inches (28 cm) of precipitation [96]. Areas in Utah planted with grass and alfalfa mixtures are estimated to have increased rangeland productivity from 3.53 acres (1.41 ha) per animal unit month (AUM) to 1.32 acres (0.53 ha) per AUM. Overall, reseeded ranges have resulted in improved weight gains and performance for cattle and sheep, resulting in a net economic gain (after costs of reseeding) [96]. 'Ladak' alfalfa was seeded with other grasses and legumes on mountain meadows in poor condition to improve productivity and provide forage for livestock and wildlife, and to provide sage grouse summer habitat [31]. Seeding mixtures for revegetating areas damaged by wildfire often include alfalfa [32]. Use of alfalfa and other seeded species for erosion control may, however, have a negative effect on the establishment of tree species. In sugar maple (Acer saccharum)-hickory (Carya spp.) forest regions of Quebec, alfalfa was found to contribute to the inhibition of tree establishment, either through direct competition or by encouraging rodent populations that damage tree seedlings [15]. Alfalfa is recommended for seeding mined soils to reduce erosion, increase forage value, and as a soil conditioner. On a surface-mined site in an eastern Montana ponderosa pine savanna, alfalfa was broadcast seeded in a mixture of perennial grasses and forbs. Alfalfa and sweetclover (Melilotus spp.) produced a total of 424 pounds per acre (475 kg/ha) on grazed sites in 1975 and alfalfa produced 1,449 pounds per acre (1,623 kg/ha) on grazed sites in 1978. Thus, alfalfa can persist for at least a few years in this habitat and produce good quantities of forage [24]. On strip-mined soils in Illinois, a 15- to 20-year-old stand of brome grass (Bromus spp.) and alfalfa had no detectable soil profile development. This plot was plowed and reseeded with a mixture of grass and alfalfa, and established 59 percent cover of alfalfa. Usable forage after 2 years of growth resulted in productivity of 5,796 pounds per acre (6,490 kg/ha) for alfalfa [24]. In the first reported instance of moose activity on reclaimed mine spoils, sites that were planted to alfalfa, clover (Trifolium spp.), and grasses were found to have a higher incidence of moose use than the untreated adjacent forest and shrubland, although the amount of difference was small [91]. Alfalfa is used for revegetation projects on many mined sites in the western United States, and primarily in northern Illinois and similar areas where the mined soils do not require additions of lime or fertilizer [119]. Reasonably good establishment can be expected as long as there is sufficient precipitation (a minimum of 10 to 12 inches [28 cm]) and soil conditions are taken into account [13,91]. In a study on coal mine reclamation in Arizona, alfalfa was able to establish on mined soils but only had moderate performance [22]. In Manitoba, on mixed-grass prairie sites disturbed by military tank maneuvers, it appears that leaving the disturbed sites alone to return to native vegetation is just as beneficial as reseeding with mixtures of grasses and alfalfa [125]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : Alfalfa is a highly valued agricultural species due to the quality of hay it produces, its soil-conditioning properties, and ability to fix nitrogen. It is valued for the ability to fix nitrogen during drought when other legumes are not nodulated or not actively fixing nitrogen [57]. It is excellent as pasture for swine, and is used as pasture for cattle and sheep, despite the hazard due to bloat. Bloat is reduced when alfalfa is planted with perennial grasses [50,110,114]. Alfalfa is a primary honey plant in North America [53,114]. Alfalfa is a recommended component of vegetational snow fences: trees, shrubs, and forbs planted alongside highways and railroads to reduce snow drift on the road. Alfalfa contributes wildlife forage and helps catch and store snow [107]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Alfalfa is the most highly valued and widely planted legume. Before planting, however, managers should take into account the grazing management plan for the range unit. Seeded species can do more harm than good, and alfalfa may not always be the most appropriate legume [46,97]. There is a general trend for preferring native species for rangeland over introduced species where feasible. It is often the case that assembly of native seed mixtures is more expensive than commercially available seed. There are, however, some companies that are starting to make native legumes available [96,97]. The choice of alfalfa for plantings should depend on climatic and edaphic conditions favorable to alfalfa establishment. A minimum of 10 to 12 inches (28-38 cm) of precipitation is needed, at least half of it not snow. Alfalfa is the only exotic legume recommended for planting in southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta [56]. It appears to be limited by high elevations [109]. Alfalfa performance and persistence is quite variable and is dependent on a number of factors, not all of them predictable [42]. Seedings of alfalfa mixtures in southeastern Oregon have persisted for 17 years or more, and as long or longer in other western states [60,99]. The weather factors following seeding are considered to be highly important in determining successful establishment. A severe frost following germination is lethal [50]. Grazing management is also influential in establishment and persistence. 'Nomad' alfalfa normally forms seed, so grazing prescriptions that are designed to favor trampling of seed (thus scarifying it and making a firm seedbed) may improve persistence [60]. A general trend in western rangeland seedings is that initial establishment and productivity are usually good to excellent and drop off as the stand matures [95]. In southern Oregon, a 1972 aerial seeding of 'Nomad' alfalfa in stands of crested wheatgrass was "spotty" by 1975 and still lower by 1986. In a pinyon-juniper type in central Utah, initial coverage of alfalfa on a chained and seeded rangeland was excellent but declined slightly from 1982 to 1985 [21]. Creeping rooted cultivars are longer lived than other strains on sites with 12.6 to 15 inches (32-38 cm) precipitation [51]. The value of alfalfa is such that even a small amount contributes to forage quality and productivity [49]. Since it is difficult to choose seed mixtures that are perfectly adapted to particular conditions and produce a specified composition of species, mixtures of a wide variety of seeds are preferred in most cases [21]. The choice of the grass species to be seeded with alfalfa has an effect on alfalfa persistence. 'Whitmar' bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegenaria spicata) allowed more alfalfa to coexist than did 'Greenar' bluebunch wheatgrass or 'Nordan' crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) [60]. In the western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) zone of central Oregon, a range planting study failed to establish alfalfa. The area receives 11 to 15 inches (28-38 cm) precipitation and has shallow clayey loam soil. The author concluded that the inclusion of seeds of grasses, forbs, and shrubs other than crested wheatgrass and Siberian wheatgrass (Agropyron sibiricum) is "questionable" for the western juniper zone [69]. It is probable that the planting conditions may have been too dry for good establishment or that deer or rodents may have damaged the seed and/or seedlings too heavily. There are other reports of range seeding failures and plantings that did not have productivity results as high as expected; these also may have failed to take into account initial planting conditions or may have failed for more obscure reasons (competition, rodent predation on seeds or roots etc.) [14,23,60,102]. For rangeland improvement in aspen (Populus spp.) parklands in Saskatchewan, smooth brome (Bromus inermis) is planted with alfalfa. Areas that have been chained and seeded are susceptible to regrowth of aspen and prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) suckers. Application of herbicides to control aspen and prickly rose have a detrimental effect on alfalfa. Alfalfa is sensitive to picloram, 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T, and is killed at levels applied to control woody species [7]. It may therefore be only beneficial to include alfalfa in such plantings when a mix of 2,4-D and picloram is applied 5 to 10 years after the forage stand is seeded [8]. In a study to control woody reinvaders (aspen and snowberry [Symphoricarpos occidentalis]) in burned and seeded aspen parkland, it was found that early season, short-duration heavy grazing severely reduced competition from woody suckers. Newly germinated forage seedlings survived better and resulted in a more rapid establishment of forages than under either late-season, short-duration heavy grazing or no grazing [4]. Establishment: Alfalfa establishes best with a firm seedbed, and drilling is the preferred method of seeding in most areas [42,53,91,110]. Recommended planting depth is 1/4 to 1/2 inch (1 mm- 2 mm) [53]. Seed germination is inhibited by the presence of pine and juniper litter over buried seed. In pinyon-juniper types, germination may be enhanced by broadcast seeding rather than drilling [34,89]. No added nitrogen is needed if the seed is inoculated with Rhizobium bacteria. However, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur should be supplemented if the soil is deficient in these nutrients [110,114]. The acid intolerance of alfalfa may be overcome by the addition of calcium and nitrogen fertilizers, which counteracted the effects of low pH under laboratory conditions [115]. Some recommended seeding rates (certified pure live seed) are as follows: For pure stands 15 - 20 lbs per acre (17-22 kg/ha) [50] 9 lbs per acre (10 kg/ha) [110] 10-15 lbs per acre(12.5-22 kg/ha) [53] For mixed stands 1-2 lbs per acre (1.25-2.5 kg/ha) [53,111] 2.5 lbs per acre (2.8 kg/ha) [99] Viable seed is bright olive green [111]. No significant effect on yield was detected between applications where all seeds were mixed and seeded, and applications where alfalfa was seeded alternately with crested wheatgrass [101]. The preference of deer mice for alfalfa seed has contribute seeding failures in Nevada; deer and rodents probably contributed to seeding failures in northeastern Washington and on a subalpine grassland study in north-central Washington [32,35,109]. In a study of the combined and individual effects of deer, rabbit, and rodent use of alfalfa, deer use was found to have a greater negative impact than rabbit use. Rabbit damage is usually minimal, except in peak rabbit population years [95]. The soil-loosening effect of alfalfa roots may increase rodent burrowing activity, which can contribute to postestablishment failures [45]. Seeding dates vary with location. In South Dakota, late summer seedings are more successful than spring seedings. Sowing can take place later farther south; near the Gulf of Mexico, alfalfa can be sown as late as October, and in the Southwest, plantings can be made as late as December. North and east of Nebraska, spring sowing is usually best with a companion grain crop [50]. If the management goal is to provide a seasonally balanced grassland, it is important to delay seeding to favor warm-season species. If planted too early, the tendency is to establish a stand dominated by cool-season species [84]. Planting methods and further management considerations are detailed in Horton 1989 [53], Hull and others 1958 [55], Love and Jones 1952 [73], and in: 1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 1979. User guide to vegetation. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-64. Ogden, UT. 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 1979. User guide to soils. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-68. Ogden, UT. For postfire regeneration projects in Alberta, where much of the organic matter is destroyed by fire, alfalfa seeded with wheatgrasses, red fescue, brome grasses, and clovers is more successful in spring plantings than fall plantings [2]. The concern has been raised that seeding introduced species such as alfalfa can suppress native vegetation. In degraded big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) habitat types, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an invading species that is reduced by moderate to severe wildfires. Since the native perennial grass seed bank in these areas is depauperate, postfire seeding of introduced species after such wildfires can greatly reduce the acreage invaded by cheatgrass. These seedings appear to prevent revegetation by species native to the area, so managers must be able to judge which areas are likely to be invaded by cheatgrass after fire (which can be partially predicted by the amount of unburned organic litter remaining after a fire) and seed those, leaving other areas to natural regeneration [128]. Livestock use: Rangeland use of alfalfa carries the risk of bloat in cattle, horses, and sheep. This risk can be reduced by planting perennial grasses to cover at least half of the site [50,110,114]. Bloat risk is also reduced by delaying grazing until after flowering is completed [110]. Alfalfa does not persist on moderately to heavily grazed rangelands unless there are well-timed rest periods [53]. A short period of intense grazing during May and June is considered more favorable management for alfalfa than a long period of summer grazing [97]. Alfalfa tolerates rotational grazing; stands will weaken rapidly if grazed continuously [50]. Hafenrichter [46] recommends a rotation deferred system in bunchgrass areas. Grazing should not be closer than 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm). Alfalfa is sensitive to depletion of root reserves in the fall and should not be grazed heavily at this time [110]. Frequent, intense clipping decreases lateral shoot spread [95]. The longevity of alfalfa in some semiarid environments appears related to the degree of utilization--persistence is enhanced when only lightly used [99]. Some cultivars are more tolerant of grazing than others. A prostrate growth form is associated with persistence under grazing [20]. For example, under close grazing, 'Nomad' alfalfa assumes a prostrate form, which increases its tolerance to grazing [60]. Methods for hay production are detailed in [46,50,70,110,130,131]. Insect pests: The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) causes stunted, wilted plants and reduces cold hardiness. The alfalfa weevil (Hypera postica) is the most important pest in the United States and Ontario. It can defoliate both first and second cuttings of hay, reducing hay yield up to 50 percent and also reducing hay quality. Alfalfa curculio (Sitona scissifrons), a weevil that attacks leaf edges, is not a problem in established stands but can destroy seedling fields. Lygus plant bugs (Lygus spp.) mostly damage seed production. The alfalfa looper (Autographa californica) is not a serious problem except where local outbreaks can cause severe damage. Grasshoppers (Melanoplus spp., Camnula spp.) consume all plant parts and can be extremely destructive in dry years [110]. Control of insect pests: The pea aphid, alfalfa weevil, and alfalfa looper are subject to biological control; chemical control is also recommended for the pea aphid, alfalfa weevil, alfalfa curculio, lygus plant bugs on seed crops; outbreaks of alfalfa looper; and for grasshoppers [110]. Diseases: Most diseases of alfalfa become more severe with the age of the stand; most stands are free of disease the first year, with the exception of alfalfa sickness. Disease can be established by the second year, and by the fourth year, it is often uneconomical to maintain the stand. Stands can be kept healthy by such management practices as adequate fertilizer and water. Varieties should be chosen that are resistent to diseases common to the area. Leaf and stem diseases include common leaf spot, yellow leaf blotch, black stem, downy mildew, and verticillium wilt. Crown and root diseases include winter crown rot crown bud rot, bacterial wilt, alfalfa sickness, and brown root rot [110]. Control: Burning in the spring before growth begins prevents crop injury by the burn and reduces the amount of infected leaves. Crown and root diseases are mitigated with adequate fertilizer and by allowing plants to recover in the spring before cutting or grazing. Adequate late summer growth builds up winter reserves and reduces disease susceptibility [110]. Wildlife use: Sharp-tailed and sage grouse habitat can be developed in North Dakota by planting brome grass and alfalfa and left undisturbed until stand vigor declines. Vigor can then be restored by mechanical disturbance, reseeding, or burning, with prescribed burning considered the least disruptive to grouse [62,63]. For wildlife habitat (particularly dabbling ducks) in the northern prairie pothole region, it is recommended that native grasses be planted on sites that receive 20 inches (51 cm) or more annual precipitation, and that introduced grasses and legumes (particularly alfalfa) be used in the drier areas. It is considered better for duck nesting if fields of 40 acres (25 ha) or more are established near or adjacent to wetland types of habitat [30]. Removal of cover by mowing affects the distribution of breeding ducks but probably does not decrease the overall breeding population. However, residual growth is an important component of selection of nest sites for many species of ducks, and therefore nesting would be increased by allowing some areas to go unmowed in the latter part of the season [75]. Gray partridge nesting in North Dakota can be encouraged in alfalfa stands that are adjacent to cereal crops (especially on roadsides and field edges). These stands are best if left unmowed so that heights of 9 to 12 inches (23-30 cm) are achieved. Programs to leave unmowed strips along the crop side of fields and roadsides could greatly increase potential nest sites for gray partridge [11]. Upland sandpipers in North Dakota have experienced population declines, largely due to past hunting and loss of habitat. Many acres of suitable habitat have been converted to grasses and legumes, notably alfalfa and sweetclover. Alfalfa fields are usually too tall for upland sandpipers, which prefer cover heights between 6 and 12 inches (15 and 30 cm). Alfalfa is not recommended for upland sandpiper habitat and therefore a management goal to increase habitat for upland sandpipers would include conversion of alfalfa fields to native vegetation where appropriate [62]. Management for pronghorn includes the maintenance of rangeland in seral stages such that grasses and forbs dominate, with a low (15-20 percent) shrub cover [127]. This was accomplished historically by periodic wildfire, and today can be accomplished by prescribed fire or by chaining and drill-seeding big sagebrush communities dominated by tall shrubs. Recommended seed mixtures contain approximately six species each of grasses, forbs, and shrubs [127]. Including alfalfa in the seed mixtures is highly recommended for a number of habitat types. This technique is considered very successful for pronghorn habitat improvement in southeastern Oregon [59,61]. After at least 6 years, alfalfa constituted 10 percent of the vegetation on most planted sites [127]. Cultivars: For nonirrigated land, 'Ranger' alfalfa is a hardy, wilt-resistant variety. It is widely adapted throughout the northern and central United States. 'Ladak' alfalfa produces a large first crop but is very slow to recover recovery after cutting. It has some resistance to wilt and leaf diseases. It is most valued in cold, dry climates. 'Vernal' alfalfa is a variety developed in Wisconsin and has excelled 'Ranger' in both yield and stand persistence. 'Nomad' alfalfa is a creeping or pasture-type which persists under intensive and continuous grazing. It has rather wide adaptation throughout the Northwest and elsewhere under dry and cold conditions. 'Rambler' alfalfa is also a creeping variety that spreads by true underground roots. It is adapted to the prairie provinces of Canada and northern areas in the United States [111,122]. A more complete list of cultivars and their availability can be found in : 1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 1960. Alfalfa varieties in the United States. Agric. Handb. 177. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 30 p. 2. Barnes, D. K.; Smith, D. L. 1984 Review and description of alfalfa varieties. In: Report of the Alfalfa Improvement Conference. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service: 115-118.


SPECIES: Medicago sativa
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Alfalfa is an introduced perennial herb. It can reach 24 to 35 inches (60-90 cm) in height, with 5 to 25 or more erect stems per plant, which arise from a narrow, woody crown. It has a deep taproot, 10 to 17 feet (3-5 m) in sandy soils, and 23 to 30 feet (7-9 m) under favorable conditions [50,110]. Many older plants have roots up to 63 feet (19 m) deep. A record depth of 130 feet (39 m) was reported in the roof of a mine tunnel in Nevada [39]. Varieties are available with different root system types: taproot, branching roots, rhizomatous, and creeping (horizontal rootstocks that give rise to independent plants) [94,110]. The roots form nodules in association with Rhizobium spp. bacteria, which fix atmospheric nitrogen. Alfalfa also has endomycorrhizal associates [27]. Saponic glycosides are found in alfalfa, which are suspected of contributing to bloat in ruminants [29]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Hemicryptophyte Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Alfalfa is obligately insect pollinated. Bees are the major insect pollinators of alfalfa. Leafcutter bees (Megachile rotundata) and alkali bees (Nomia melanderi) are efficient pollinators. Honeybees (Apis mellifera) also visit alfalfa flowers but are not as efficient for pollination [50]. There are approximately 200,000 seeds per pound (441,000 seeds/kg) [50]. On average, 45 to 73 percent of seeds are hard and require scarification for efficient germination [116]. The percentage of hard seeds varies with the area producing the seed. In warmer climates, such as southern California, the number of hard seeds is around 20 percent; in cooler areas in Washington, the amount of hard seeds is around 40 to 50 percent. Similarly, lower altitude areas have lower proportions of hard seed than corresponding higher altitudes [43,25]. The most common method for scarification is mechanical means [93]. Hard seeds became permeable to water after 4 minutes at 219 degrees F (104 deg C) [90]. Radiation treatments were also effective in rendering hard seeds permeable; radio frequencies were found to be the most efficient [113]. Busse [10] found that extreme cold also efficiently releases seed for water uptake. Seeds can be long-lived. Seed stored in unheated sheds attained 81 percent germination after 19 years [54]. In soils previously unoccupied by rhizobial nitrogen-fixers the seeds need to be inoculated with Rhizobium bacteria for root nodule formation nitrogen fixation [40,110]. Seedlings of alfalfa are not very aggressive, but established plants are very competitive, especially the creeping rooted varieties [50]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Alfalfa is well adapted to a wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions, but it does best in deep, loamy soils with porous subsoils. It is intolerant of flooding, waterlogging, or poor soil drainage. It requires large amounts of lime. Alfalfa does not do well on acid or very alkaline soils, although it will tolerate some alkalinity. It has fair salt tolerance [47,50,110]. It is naturalized to roadsides, old fields, and waste places [37]. Alfalfa will tolerate drought and is known as a good producer in dry years. It needs about 12 inches (30 cm) of precipitation per year on good soils, 14 inches (36 cm) on less favorable soils [111]. Irrigation greatly enhances productivity in dry climates [50,106]. Regional elevation distributions are as follows: Utah 4,500 - 8,600 ft (1,364-2,606 m) Colorado 4,800 - 8,500 ft (1,455-2,576 m) Wyoming 3,700 - 8,800 ft (1,121-2,667 m) Montana 3,400 - 6,600 ft (1,030-2,000 m) [27] Idaho up to 8,000 ft (up to 2,424 m) [110] Alfalfa does poorly at high elevations [53,109]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Alfalfa is probably not shade tolerant. In a study of alfalfa planted on chained aspen parklands, alfalfa cover decreased steadily as overstory canopy increased [7].
Alfalfa establishing on an old roadbed in a sagebrush community. ©2006 Louis-M. Landry.

Alfalfa is generally considered a cool-season species, although
succulent growth can take place through the summer.  Growth begins early
in the spring [84,119].  Flowering takes place from May to October,
depending on latitude [37].

Some reported dates for anthesis are as follows [27]:

	Utah		June-August			
	Colorado  	May-October
	Wyoming   	June-September
	Montana   	June-August
	North Dakota	June-September 

Alfalfa can remain green throughout the summer, and dies back in the
fall with heavy frost.  There is a critical period in early fall for
transfer of food reserves to the roots [50].


SPECIES: Medicago sativa
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : As a perennial with a narrow root crown, alfalfa will survive most fires by sprouting after being top-killed. Alfalfa hard seeds may be scarified by moderate-severity fires [126,91]. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community) Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Medicago sativa
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Moderately severe fires will top-kill alfalfa shoots, and severe fires may cause damage to or kill the root crown, killing the plant [85]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Alfalfa fields that were burned to control insect pests were monitored for soil changes and plant response. The root systems of the plants were not adversely affected by the fire, and subsequent crops were similar in appearance and productivity to that of unburned control plots. Soil preburn conditions (organic matter and nitrogen) were attained within 160 days [28]. Canopy coverage of alfalfa increased by the end of the first growing season following a prescribed fire in May but showed no significant difference from unburned controls in the second growing season (which may be attributed to the low precipitation that year) [85]. Mixtures of cool-season grasses and alfalfa and/or sweetclover respond best (in productivity) to prescribed fires from March to June. The lowest response by alfalfa is to late summer-early fall fires [52,65,85]. In a study of individual plant responses to a spring fire in a tallgrass prairie stand, Pemble and others [87] found that a moderate-severity fire resulted in a slight decrease in the amount of flowering (flowers per plant and plants in flower) in alfalfa. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : The fire susceptibility of rangeland vegetation depends on the reduction of fuel loads through animal use or drought which reduces standing crop size [49]. Seeded alfalfa fields are often burned prior to growth initiation in the spring to reduce insect pests. This treatment results in destruction of insect eggs and adults, and reduces debris from the previous growing season that encourages insect population growth. Since soil preburn conditions are attained within 160 days of the fire, it is unlikely that a 3-year interval between fires would be detrimental to the soil [28]. Under current evaluation is a method of presuppression fire management called "greenstrip management." This involves the production of a vegetative fuelbreak of green plants that are less flammable than the surrounding native vegetation. Alfalfa is the most commonly used forb for this purpose [86].


SPECIES: Medicago sativa
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