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University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Agriculture > Crops > Forage Production > Establishment > Forage legumes

Forage legumes: Clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, cicer milkvetch, crownvetch and alfalfa

By Craig C. Sheaffer, Nancy J Ehlke, Kenneth A. Albrecht, Paul R. Peterson


Using this publication

This publication is intended to serve as both an educational resource for students and a reference tool for agricultural professionals such as crop consultants, extension educators and farm producers. To make this easier to use, some material is repeated in more than one section.

Tables 1 through 3 are in the introductory section because they are specific to that general discussion. For similar reasons, tables 25 and 26 are within the section on cultural practices.

Other tables, whether specific to a single forage species or incorporating data for many, are grouped in a common appendix which begins on page 36.

This second edition revision features a new extended section on kura clover, a forage legume relatively new to U.S. agricultural producers, which has growth, persistence and nutritional qualities which the authors believe make it extremely attractive for growers in the north central region of the United States. Also, sainfoin has been eliminated from this revision because it is rarely planted in the region.

Legume names

Like many plants, legumes often have both common and scientific names. Common names that evolve over centuries are sometimes recognized only in limited geographic areas. For example, alfalfa is called lucerne in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. It has also been called purple medic or Chilean clover. And, Wendelin Grimm, the German immigrant who developed the parent stock of 'Grimm' alfalfa in Carver County, Minn., referred to it as the everlasting clover, the "ewiger Klee."

A scientific naming system developed by Swedish botanist Linnaeus, in the 1700s, allows for worldwide identification and communication about plants. In that system, common names are replaced with names based on Latin, which are usually written in italic. These scientific names are composed of two italicized Latin words: the first word names a plant's genus (a larger biological class of plants with common characteristics) and the second identifies its species (a subdivision of plants potentially capable of interbreeding).

Complete scientific names also include the names of individuals (often abbreviated) who first identified a given species. For example, the scientific name of alfalfa is Medicago sativa L. The abbreviation "L" indicates that Linnaeus, who developed this notation system, first described the species. In this publication, we provide the scientific names of specific legumes in addition to common names.


Color Plates

Reference photos for seeds of forage legumes
Reference photos for forage legume flowers and foliage

Enumerated figures

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