ALFALFA (Medicago sativa) was one of the first forage crops grown by man. A native of southwestern Asia, it is important hay crop throughout the world today. Like other legumes or members of the pea family, alfalfa enriches the soil by adding nitrogen. Alfalfa is a hardy plant. It grows in a variety of soils and survives dry, hot spells because its taproots grow deep into the soil where moisture is more plentiful. Alfalfa plants attain a height of two to four feet. Because new stems and leaves grow back rapidly after a cutting, from two to six hay crops can be harvested in one season. Alfalfa flowers are purple or sometimes yellow. They discharge their pollen explosively when bees separate the flowers’ wing-shaped petals. Tightly coiled, spiral seed pods develop at maturity. Alfalfa grown for hay is cut before it flowers, but in some areas crops are allowed to flower as a source for nectar for honey bees.
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