Alfalfa, or lucerne (genus Medicago),
is an herbaceous perennial belonging to the LEGUME family and grown as
a forage crop. It evolved in central Asia, an area with cold winters
and hot, dry summers, and spread to Europe, East Asia, Africa and the New
Alfalfa flowers range from purple to yellow and are borne on a long raceme (ie, structure composed of short stalks spaced equally along a central axis). The seed pods are spiral-shaped from which small, kidney-shaped seeds are produced. The trifoliate leaves are arranged alternately on the stem.
The root system is characterized by a deep taproot which, under favourable drainage conditions, may penetrate 7.5 m.
The erect stems usually grow 60- 90 cm high; regrowth after cutting is very rapid, even in hot summers. When alfalfa is cut for silage or hay, at the later flower-bud stage, the protein content may vary from 10% to 20%.
Since 1950, many improved cultivars have been bred to increase alfalfa use in Canada. The yellow- flowered M. falcata has been developed for dry- land prairie; blue-flowered M. sativa has been made disease- and insect-resistant to maintain hectarages in areas of Canada with favourable temperature, drainage and soil acidity. Yield varies greatly with temperature and moisture conditions: eg, in the Edmonton area, 2 cuts yield 5136 kg/ha; in Winnipeg, 6787 kg/ha; in Guelph, 3 cuts yield 13,619 kg/ha. Alfalfa will continue to be the most important forage for dairy cattle. (Alfalfa sprouts have also become a popular addition to salads and sandwiches.)
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