Alfalfa | Alfalfa |
Because of its high protein content, alfalfa is used as a food for almost all farm animals as thay, as silage, or as a temporary pasture crop. Because of its nitrogen-fixing properties, it is used in crop rotation to improve soil for other crops. When planted in combination with grasses, it helps prevent soil erosion. Alfalfa is also grown commercially for seed in arid or semiarid regions. Dehydrated alfalfa is ground into meal and used in feeding poultry and livestock. Indirectly, alfalfa is a source of honey, because bees gather substantial quantities of nectar from alfalfa flowers. Description Alfalfa grows from two to three feet (60 to 90 cm) high, depending on soil conditions and water supply. Long taproots (4 to 30 feet [1.2 to 9 m]) draw moisture and nourishment from deep in the subsoil, and enable the plant to grow in dry areas. A thickened, woody, stemlike structure, the crown, develops at or near the surface of the ground. Some 15 to 50 leafy shoots grow from the crown. The leaves are small, with distinct marginal teeth at the apex. The flowers are predominantly purple, but lavender, cream, yellow, white, and green flowers also occur. The seed pods are twisted and slightly downy, and the seeds are kidney-shaped.