Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Medicago polymorpha, Burclover

Burclover has small but pretty yellow flowers that extend from stem axils and cluster into heads at stem tips. Plants blooms from March to June or July. Medicago polymorphaBurclover is also called Burr Medic, California Burclover, Toothed Bur Clover and Toothed Medick. Plants are considered weedy in many areas.  Medicago polymorpha Burclover fruits are smooth, brown coiled pods with 2 to 6 turns and 2 to 3 rows of prickles which often have tiny hooks on the ends.  Medicago polymorpha Burclover are widely established plants native to Europe and naturalized in the United States and Canada.  Medicago polymorphaBurclover prefer elevations below 5,000 feet (1,500 m) and grow in chaparral, oak woodland, streambanks, roadsides, disturbed areas, fields, grasslands, pastures, agricultural lands (especially alfalfa fields) and lawns. Medicago polymorpha

Scientific Name: Medicago polymorpha
Common Name: Burclover

Also Called: Bur-clover, Burr Medic, California Burclover, Toothed Bur Clover, Toothed Medick

Family: Fabaceae or Leguminosae Family

Synonyms: (Medicago apiculata, Medicago denticulata, Medicago hispida (+ 4 var.), Medicago lappacea, Medicago polycarpa (+ 6 var.))

Status: Introduced from Europe; naturalized and widely established where found.

Duration: Annual or perennial; broad-leaf plant; plants prostrate, mat-forming or often with ascending multiple branches; stems and foliage glabrous.

Size: Up to 2 feet (60 cm) long, tends to travel along substrate, horizontally or vertically.

Growth Form: Forb/herb; common and widely established.

Leaves: Green; leaves divided into three round leaflets (trifoliolate or trifoliate), leaflets dentate or serrated, wedge-shaped to obcordate; leaf stipules generally cut; leaves often with reddish-tinged midribs.

Flower Color: Yellow, bright yellow, small, flowers from axils cluster into heads at stem tips; fruit a brown pod coiled 2 to 6 turns, the coils are smooth or with 2 to 3 rows of prickles, the prickles often with tiny hooks on the ends.

Flowering Season: March to June or July

Elevation: Below 5,000 feet (1,500 m)

Habitat Preferences: Chaparral, oak woodland, streambanks, roadsides, disturbed areas, fields, grasslands, pastures, agricultural lands (especially alfalfa fields) and lawns.

Recorded Range: Widespread throughout the southern, western and eastern shoreline. Also found in Alaska and most of Canada.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Medicago polymorpha.

U.S. Weed Information: In North America Medicago polymorpha can be weedy or invasive according to the following authoritative sources: Medicago polymorpha, California Burclover; Introduced, Alaska, Hawaii and Canada. Plants included here may become weedy or invasive.

Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: In North America Medicago polymorpha is listed as a Noxious Weed by the federal government and/or a State. Arizona, Burclover, Prohibited, Noxious Weed and Burclover and Regulated Noxious Weeds. Plants included here are invasive or noxious.

Wetland Indicator: In North America Medicago polymorpha has the following wetland designations: Alaska, FACU; Arid West, FACU; Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, FACU; Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, FACU; Great Plains, FACU; Midwest, FACU; Northcentral & Northeast, FACU; Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, FACU.
FACU = Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands.

Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: In North America there are 38 species and x accepted taxa overall for genus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 103 accepted species names and a further 152 scientific names of infraspecific rank for Medicago polymorpha.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 4 species of Medicago, California has 7 species, Nevada has 3 species, New Mexico has 3 species, Texas has 6 species, Utah has 3 species. All data approximate and subject to revision.

Comments: Burclover is an annual Broadleaf species, a weedy herb that is originally from Europe. It is now naturalized and common where found. Plants are weedy and well adapted to disturbed- and waste-areas. Livestock forage on the plant and may be grown for pasture or a cover crop. The fruit, a nasty burr is spread around as it clings to clothing and/or fur. The clingy fruits are not easily removed from clothing and the prickly fruits may lower the value of wool when they become entangled in the sheep's coat.

Importance to Wildlife and Livestock
Medicago polymorpha is decent forage for livestock with the exception of horses and mules.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see Alfalfa, Medicago sative.

The genus Medicago is from the Greek word "Medlick" or "medick" meaning alfalfa and the species epithet polymorpha means many forms or variable.
The genus Medicago was first published in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus.

Medicago polymorpha has been used for food and forage by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Cahuilla Food, Porridge, Parched, ground seeds used to make mush.
  • Mendocino Indian Food, Forage, Dried seed pods eaten by sheep in summer.
  • Mendocino Indian Food, Forage, Seeds and leaves used as a forage plant.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed:10/28/2019
    Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California; as Medicago hispida var. confinis.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 10/21/2019)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 10/21/2019).
    University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources - Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program IPM (accessed 10/21/2019).
    Texas County Level Distribution for Medicago polymorpha (burclover) | USDA PLANTS
    Martin F. Wojciechowski & Duane Isely 2012, Medicago polymorpha, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on October 21, 2019.
    'Medicago polymorpha', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 September 2019, 00:43 UTC, [accessed 28 October 2019]
    University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources - Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program IPM (accessed 10/21/2019).
    ETYMOLOGY: Michael L. Charters; California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology; (accessed 10/23/2019)