Fabaceae Lindl.

Medicago L.

This genus is accepted, and its native range is Temp. & Subtropical Eurasia, N. Africa to Mauritania, Eritrea to S. Africa.


Legumes of the World. Edited by G. Lewis, B. Schrire, B. MacKinder & M. Lock. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2005)


Trifolieae forms a morphologically distinctive tribe, although the position of both Ononis and Parochetus has been questioned (see below). In total there are 6 genera and c. 485 species, of which more than half belong to Trifolium (Fig. 56). The distribution of the tribe is centred in the N temperate regions of the Old World, particularly in areas of winter rainfall. Trifolium itself has spread into the tropics on mountains, where there has been considerable diversification, particularly in Ethiopia. It is also the only genus of the tribe to occur naturally in the New World. Parochetus occurs only on palaeotropical mountains. The importance of some genera as fodder legumes, particularly Trifolium and Medicago, has led to their introduction to many parts of the world.

Ononis was placed in a tribe of its own, Ononideae, by Hutchinson (1964) and this has been followed by some (e.g., Yakovlev et al., 1996). The distinctness of Parochetus (and of Ononis) was emphasised by Small & Jomphe (1989), and Chaudhary & Sanjappa (1998a) have placed Parochetus in its own subtribe Parochetinae.

Within the core of Trifolieae, there are some problems in generic delimitation, particularly between Trigonella, Medicago and Melilotus, with some (e.g., Yakovlev et al., 1996) recognising the intermediate genus Melilotoides. Distinctive species here placed in Medicago have been variously segregated as Radiata (Pseudomelissitus), Rhodusia, Crimea, Kamiella and Factorovskya. This treatment follows Small (1987) and Small et al. (1987) in recognising an expanded Medicago including all those species with explosively tripping flowers. In Trifolium, on the other hand, the generic boundaries are reasonably clear, but the unit can be treated either as a large genus with several well-defined sections (the course followed here), or as the separate genera Amoria, Chrysaspis, Lupinaster and Trifolium sens. strict. (see below).

Trifolieae forms part of the ‘temperate epulvinate series’ of Polhill (1981a). In the same volume Heyn (1981) was unable to suggest a clear relationship to any other tribe. The morphological cladistic analysis of the whole family by Chappill (1995) placed Trifolieae next to Cicer. Kupicha (1977) had earlier suggested that Cicer is closest to Trifolieae, with the adnation of the stipules to the petiole in Trifolieae being the only differential character; the tribes Cicereae and Trifolieae also share the characters of long-stalked glandular hairs and serrate leaflets with craspedodromous venation. Doyle (1995) placed Trifolieae, along with Carmichaelieae, Cicereae, Galegeae, Hedysareae, Fabeae and some Millettieae in a group characterised by the loss of the inverted repeat (IR) (Liston, 1995). Endo & Ohashi (1997) placed Trifolieae as sister to the Cicereae and Fabeae (as Vicieae) in a cladistic analysis based on a range of non-molecular characters. Wojciechowski et al. (2000) distinguish a Vicioid clade that includes Trifolieae, Cicereae and Fabeae (as Vicieae), as well as Galega. Within this clade, Parochetus is basally branching to the rest of the taxa, and Galega plus Cicereae form a sister group to a paraphyletic Trifolieae, with Fabeae emerging as sister to Trifolium. In a clade sister to Trifolium and Fabeae, Wojciechowski et al. (2000) and Steele & Wojciechowski (2003) place Ononis basally branching to the sister monophyletic clades Medicago, and Melilotus-Trigonella (Fig. 56). The latter three genera comprise tribe Trigonelleae of Schulz (1901).

Given that molecular phylogenies do not support a monophyletic Trifolieae in its current form, further study may reinforce the pattern of relationships suggested so far by these analyses. A tribe Trigonelleae could be recognised including the genus Ononis, and tribe Trifolieae would then only include the genus Trifolium, sister to tribe Fabeae. The Trifolieae in its broader paraphyletic sense is maintained here pending further study. The ‘supertree’ of Wojciechowski et al. (2001) is not supportive of the segregate genera of Trifolium; more thorough sampling of Trifolium and other large genera is desirable before any final conclusions can be drawn.

See notes under Trigonella for relationships; Small & Jomphe (1989) include some species of Melilotoides in Medicago; Factorovskya appears to be a geocarpic Medicago (Small & Brookes, 1984); other distinctive species have been given generic status (see above) but these genera are not recognised here, following Small et al. (1987)
Herbs or shrubs
Mediterranean and warm-temperate grassland and shrubland
Mediterranean Region and W to C Asia


Leguminosae, various authors. Flora Zambesiaca 3:7. 2003

Morphology General Habit
Annual or perennial herbs.
Morphology Leaves
Leaves pinnately 3-foliolate; leaflets at least distally marginally toothed; stipules basally adnate to the petiole, deeply incised or laciniate (entire or basally toothed in M. sativa).
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Racemes short, axillary, pedunculate; bracts short.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers pedicellate, with an elaborate explosive tripping pollination mechanism (in connection with a syndrome of floral characteristics).
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx short, 5-dentate; teeth subequal.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals free from the stamens, mostly yellow or golden (blue, violet or mauve in M. sativa), glabrous, caducous; standard with basal vein usually more than 3-branched near the base; wings with the upper proximal corner extended into a large auricle (about one-third the length of the wing blade); keel and wings very tightly interlocked by an adaxial (ventral) prominent wing spur in an abaxial (dorsal) developed keel pocket.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Staminal tube strongly arched at the apex; free portions of filaments relatively thick; vexillary filament free; anthers uniform.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Pistil
Ovary sessile, 1–few–many-ovuled; style always short, massive, glabrous; stigma terminal, large, fungiliform (mushroom-shaped), with a basal ring of papillae.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pod exserted from the calyx, usually spirally coiled, discoid to cylindrical, mostly indehiscent, the dorsal suture usually spiny or smooth or tuberculate.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds 1–several, small, ± reniform, ellipsoid-oblong or slightly curved, mostly smooth; hilum ± central.


M. Thulin et al. Flora of Somalia, Vol. 1-4 [updated 2008]

Morphology General Habit
Herbs or small shrubs
Morphology Leaves
Leaves pinnately 3-foliolate; leaflets usually toothed; stipules adnate to the petiole, usually toothed or laciniate
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Flowers in axillary pedunculate short racemes
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Perianth
Calyx-lobes 5, subequal. Corolla falling soon
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens Filaments
Upper filament free, the other 9 united
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pod longer than the calyx, usually indehiscent and spirally coiled
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds 1–several.
Some 90 species, most numerous around the Mediterranean.


Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

Morphology General Habit
Morphology Leaves
Leaves pinnately 3-foliolate; stipules adnate to the petiole, toothed or laciniate; leaflets toothed
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescence a short pedunculate axillary raceme; pedicels and bracts short
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx-tube short, with 5 sub-equal teeth
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals glabrous, caducous, free from the staminal tube, yellow or, less often, purplish-blue, under 1 cm. long; keel obtuse, shorter than the wings
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Vexillary filament free, the other 9 united, not dilated; anthers uniform
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Pistil
Ovary sessile; style subulate, glabrous
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pod longer than the calyx, bent through 180° or through several spiral coils, usually indehiscent
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds 1-several, kidney-shaped or curved, the hilum ± central.

Medicago sativa L. (alfalfa; lucerne; purple medic) is a widely cultivated forage legume for livestock and is a drought-resistant fodder and hay plant; species are also used for medicine, human food (e.g., sprouts), honey, green manure, industrial enzymes in biotechnology, pulp for fibre and as a source of fuel

Native to:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Altay, Amur, Assam, Austria, Azores, Baleares, Baltic States, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Botswana, Bulgaria, Buryatiya, Canary Is., Cape Provinces, Central European Rus, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, Chita, Corse, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Djibouti, East Aegean Is., East European Russia, East Himalaya, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Free State, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Gulf States, Hungary, India, Inner Mongolia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Irkutsk, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Khabarovsk, Kirgizstan, Korea, Krasnoyarsk, Kriti, Krym, Kuwait, KwaZulu-Natal, Lebanon-Syria, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madeira, Manchuria, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, North Caucasus, North European Russi, Northern Provinces, Northwest European R, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Primorye, Qinghai, Romania, Sardegna, Saudi Arabia, Sicilia, Sinai, Socotra, Somalia, South European Russi, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tadzhikistan, Tanzania, Tibet, Transcaucasus, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkey-in-Europe, Turkmenistan, Tuva, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, West Himalaya, West Siberia, Western Sahara, Xinjiang, Yakutskiya, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe

Introduced into:

Alabama, Angola, Argentina Northeast, Argentina Northwest, Argentina South, Arizona, Bahamas, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil South, California, Chad, Chatham Is., Chile Central, Chile North, Chile South, Colombia, Colorado, Costa Rica, Crozet Is., Cuba, Delaware, Dominican Republic, Easter Is., Ecuador, Florida, Føroyar, Georgia, Guatemala, Hainan, Haiti, Hawaii, Iceland, Idaho, Illinois, Japan, Jawa, Kentucky, Kerguelen, Kermadec Is., Labrador, Leeward Is., Magadan, Marianas, Massachusetts, Mauritius, Mexican Pacific Is., Mexico Central, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southwest, Minnesota, Mozambique, Nevada, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New Jersey, New Mexico, New South Wales, New York, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, Newfoundland, Niger, Norfolk Is., North Carolina, Northern Territory, Ogasawara-shoto, Oklahoma, Oregon, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Queensland, Réunion, South Australia, South Carolina, Sri Lanka, St.Helena, Taiwan, Tasmania, Tennessee, Texas, Tuamotu, Tubuai Is., Uruguay, Venezuela, Vermont, Victoria, Vietnam, Washington, Western Australia, Wisconsin, Yukon

Medicago L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status Has image?
Coradin, L. [8183], Brazil K000931821 Yes

First published in Sp. Pl.: 778 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1968). Flora Europaea 2: 1-469. Cambridge University Press.


Flora Zambesiaca

  • E. Small & Jomphe in Canad. J. Bot. 67: 3260–3294 (1989).
  • Gen. Pl., ed. 5: 339 (1754).
  • Heyn in Scripta Acad. Hierosolymitana, Sci. Rep. 12: 1–154 (1963).
  • Sp. Pl.: 778 (1753)

Flora of Somalia

  • Flora Somalia, Vol 1, (1993) Author: by M. Thulin [updated by M. Thulin 2008]

Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • L., Gen. Pl., ed. 5: 339 (1754)
  • Sp. PI.: 778 (1753)

  • Flora Zambesiaca

    Flora Zambesiaca

  • Flora of Somalia

    Flora of Somalia

  • Flora of Tropical East Africa

    Flora of Tropical East Africa

  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

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  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2022. Published on the Internet at and
    © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

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  • Legumes of the World Online