© INRA 2012

Why a collection ? The genus Medicago A complex of species Advices

Medicago truncatula is a small annual weedy species which belongs to the Fabaceae family, Faboideae sub-family, Trifolieae tribe. It is close to the genus Melilotus (melilot, sweet clover) and Trigonella (fenugreek). The particularity of this family is to develop a symbiotic relationship with bacteria and /or fungus that fix the nitrogen available in the air.
Several cultivated species belongs to the Medicago genus, the most famous member and the most extensively cultivated is Lucerne or alfalfa (Medicago sativa, Medicago falcata). Medicago sativa is a perennial, allogamous and diploid or mainly tetraploïd species. These species are an interesting source of vegetal protein.
Medicago truncatula offers many advantages for genetic and molecular analysis, including its rapid life cycle, small diploid genome, self-fertilizing, important seed production, reduced size, easiness of growing, availability of various natural diversity and good response in genetic transformation. This plant has thus become the focus of many genome projets to understand the biology of a symbiotic plant at the molecular level and also the focus of evolution projet to understand adaptation at phenological and molecular level.
Thanks to all these characteristics, Medicago truncatula has been recognised as a model species for the study of the genetic and molecular determinism of legumes (Cook, 1999).

The Biological Resource Center (BRC) has been established to underpin the research activities of the Legumes (Pea, Lucerne) projects by maintaining and distributing seed resources of the annual Medics and more peculiarly the complex of species Medicago Truncatula / littoralis to the international research community.


In parallel to its model species statut, the medics are also cultivated in Australia, in a ley farming model, and in France where French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) selected 4 cultivars that can be used in three main areas:
  1. To provide feed for livestock in the dry Causses (ewe, for ewe’s milk cheese “Roquefort”): to improve the quantity and quality of the rangeland for extensive ewe rearing.
  2. To maintain soils around infrastructures: roadsides, railwaylines embankments and disturbed areas.   
  3. To avoid soil erosion from rainfalls and winds, reduce the use of herbicides, limit infiltrations of pesticides in soils and enhance underground life in slopping vineyards.
The use of  annual medics in France is limited to the very South, near the Mediterranean Sea, since frost is too important in the northern parts of France for the available cultivars to be  grown there.
The four cultivars were obtained at Montpellier plant breeding department and are under Plant Breeder’s Right (UPOV). They belong to three species: Medicago truncatula, Medicago polymorpha and Medicago rigidula. (for further information, please contact curator).


Cook D.R., 1999. Medicago truncatula - a model in the making ! Current Opinon in Plant Biology, 2, 301-304



Medicago truncatula cultivar Jemalong
grazzing medics
maintaining railways infrastructure
avoiding soil erosion in the vineyard
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