Fabaceae: Pea Family — Medicago & Melilotus

The pea family has 5-petaled flowers, consisting of a wide upper banner petal, two wing petals, plus two lower petals which are fused to form a boat-shaped keel.  Many genera have flowers in heads or spikes, comprising many individual flowers.  Examples are lupines and clovers.  The seed pod is generally a “legume”.  This is a long, flattish pod, swollen by the seeds, and splitting lengthwise along both the top and bottom.

Spotted Bur-clover – Medicago arabica

Blooms:

Mar–June

Plant Height:

10–40 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Southern Europe

Habitat:

Grassy places

Notes:

Less common than Bur-clover (Medicago polymorpha, see below), with similar flowers, but leaves that are as broad as they are long.  The easiest way to identify this species is by the dark blotch found in the middle of its leaves.

Black Medic – Medicago lupulina

Blooms:

Apr–June

Plant Height:

10–40 cm

Flower Size:

Small cluster

Origin:

Europe

Habitat:

Waste places

Notes:

This is less common than the Bur-clovers (Medicago arabica & polymorpha).  It has a small clover-like head, with bright yellow flowers.  On closer examination, the individual flowers are more like those of the Bur-clovers than the clovers.  Also, the head becomes elongated during flowering, leaving a short spike of fruits.  These are distinctive, not forming a burl, but kidney shaped, slightly hairy, slightly lumpy, and coiled only at the tip.

Bur-clover – Medicago polymorpha

Blooms:

Mar–July

Plant Height:

10–40 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Mediterranean

Invasive?

Yes – Limited

Habitat:

Many communities, generally places

Notes:

This invasive weed is generally prostate and mat-forming, especially in grassy areas.  It has small yellow flowers, and wedge-or heart-shaped leaves.  The fruits are small spiral burs, which readily attach themselves to passing animals—especially those with short legs and long fur.

Alfalfa – Medicago sativa

Blooms:

Apr–Oct

Plant Height:

20–80 cm

Flower Size:

Medium cluster

Origin:

Eurasia

Habitat:

Escape from cultivation

Notes:

Widely cultivated and prized for its delicious sprouts, this occasionally escapes.  It is a smallish shrub with clusters of bluish-purple flowers.

White Sweet-clover – Melilotus albus

Blooms:

May–Sept

Plant Height:

0.5–2 m

Flower Size:

Medium cluster

Origin:

Eurasia

Habitat:

Disturbed places, often near water

Notes:

Related to the more common, weedy, Indian Melilot (Melilotus indicus, see below), this is a taller plant with longer, more open inflorescences, white rather than yellow.  Leaves are in threes, oblong and not as obviously toothed as those of Indian Melilot.  The fruit is an egg-shaped oval pod.

Indian Melilot – Melilotus indicus

Blooms:

Apr–Oct

Plant Height:

10–60 cm

Flower Size:

Medium cluster

Origin:

Eurasia

Habitat:

Open, disturbed areas

Notes:

Like its white-flowered relative, White Sweet-clover (Melilotus albus, see above), this has slender leaves and an elongated inflorescence.  The flowers are more or less tubular, yellow rather than white and in smaller, denser clusters.  The leaves are conspicuously toothed.