Medicago sativa ssp. sativa

Pea Family [Fabaceae]  

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5th Aug 2009, Lytham, Fylde Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
A perennial shrub-like plant growing to 90cm high growing in grassy and waste places.

5th Aug 2009, Lytham, Fylde Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The smallish flowers are bunched up in a small ovaloid head

27th July 2012, Southport, Sefton Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Flowers, 8-11mm, vary slightly in colour from pale mauve to violet. Leaves in triplets and oval in shape, finely toothed only near the extremity and with a pointed stipule at the end.

27th July 2012, Southport, Sefton Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The most prominent petal is the long narrowish banner.

4th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Stems are variously round or angular with bracts and stipules in various places. Un-opened flower buds show the five long narrow pointed sepal teeth

4th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
As yet un-opened flower buds have the fine teeth of the sepals twisted like tie-wraps keeping the flower within in a manner reminiscent of Yellow-wort.

27th July 2012, Southport, Sefton Coast, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Spiral sepal teeth un-wrapping as flower develops within.

8th Sept 2015, marine lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
At first the keels are shut tightly but later they open to reveal the stamens and styles hidden within as the next photos show.

4th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Open wide, let me see down your throat. Showing the long banner, two ear-like wings and an half-folded keel.

4th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
A very distinctive overlapping arrangement of stamens. Numerous anthers displayed like a drum-set. Cream-coloured pollen splattered about the banner.

4th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
More stamens and anthers than what you thought possible which are somehow sheathed up to near the extremity. Banner has darker veins.

22nd Aug 2007, west beach, Llandudno, North Wales. Photo: © RWD
Distinctive feature : flat cork-screw spiral seed pods like helter skelter slides. Observant viewers may note that the same photo of the seed has been used for both Lucerne and Sand Lucerne. Your Author never found many seed pods. But the seed pods to differ slightly, varying from slightly curved to 2-3 full spirals for the seed pods of Lucerne (as compared with a wind of 0.5-1.5 turns for Sand Lucerne).

Superficial resemblance to : Goat's-Rue which is also shrubby, but taller, and with pinnate leaves rather than trefoil leaves and the flowers of Goat's-Rue are in a loose spire and usually lilac or white whilst those of Lucerne have purplish flowers with spiral pods.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics : The helter-skelter like spiral-wound flattened seed pods which have between 2 and 3 complete turns but are without numerous spiny projections.

Distinguishing Feature :

In its cultivated form, Lucerne is better known as Alfalfa, Medicago Sativa. Once widely grown as fodder for browsing animals (but now much less so) it has a very high protein content, about 27%. Because of widespread arable-land planting, it is to still to be found growing on field boundaries, road verges, rough grassland and other waste places. There are three sub-species of Medicago sativa:

  • Lucerne (Medicago sativa ssp. sative) which is by far the most common. Fruits slightly curved to spiral with 2 - 3 turns. Flowers mauve to violet. 10-20 seeds. Introduced and naturalised.
  • Sand Lucerne (Medicago sativa nothossp. varia) which is a rather rare RR. Fruits curved or spiralled with 0.5 - 1.5 turns. Flowers yellow or white, or purple or green or blackish. 3-8 seeds. Sand Lucerne is the hybrid between Lucerne and Sickle Medick, but back-crosses and is partly fertile.
  • Sickle Medick (Medicago sativa ssp. falcata) which is also rather rare RR. Fruits nearly straight to a semi-circle. Flowers yellow. 2-5 seeds. Native in East Anglia, introduced and naturalised elsewhere.

Clouded Yellow
Pale Clouded Yellow
Short-tailed Blue


Coumestrol is one of the coumarins (the two fused 6-membered rings on the right) with a BenzoFuran moiety (the fused 5 and 6-membered ring on the left) fused onto the other end of it. (Coumestrol should not be confused with Cholesterol (which is a steroidal compound). However Coumestrol does possess oestrogenic properties, as do all its related compounds, the Coumestans). Coumestans are oxidation products of PteroCarpans (which lacks the =O moiety of coumestan) and which are also found in many plants.

Coumestrol is found in many plants from the Brassicacaea family, such as Brussel Sprouts, Spinach, Chick Pea, Soybeans, Split Peas, Pinto Beans and Lima Beans but the greatest concentrations are found in Lucerne (aka Alfalfa) and especially so in Clovers (such as Red Clover, which makes about 800 times more Coumestrol than does Lucerne). It is a phyto-oeastragen, mimicking the effects of oestrogen (and oestradiol) within the body, but yet exhibiting anti-oestrogenic properties. It seems that higher levels of Coumestan are found in plants which have suffered attack from aphids, so it may also be a defence chemical against aphids (either that or aphids like coumestrol and the plant willingly obliges with more, although that seems an unlikely scenario). Because Coumestrol is an oestrogen mimic, it is also an endocrine disruptor, meaning it has the potential to disrupt all organ systems hormonally governed by oestrogens and even affecting males, who despite producing normal levels of the male hormone testosterone, are less likely to ejaculate (but this has only been established in rats). But it also affects female rats (in various other ways). Clover in cattle fields adversely affects the reproduction mechanisms of both Cows and Bulls if they consume a lot of Clover.

Coumestrol also exhibits mutagenic properties.

  Medicago sativa ssp. sativa  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Fabaceae  

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Medicago sativa ssp. sativa

Pea Family [Fabaceae]  

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