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General: Legume family (Fabaceae). Cicer milkvetch is a long-lived, perennial, non-bloat legume with vigorous creeping roots or rhizomes. Stems are large and hollow, upright when young and becoming decumbent and trailing. Stems can reach 4 to 10 ft in length in one season. Young plants may reach heights of 3 ft, but older plants become more trailing in nature. Leaves are 4 to 8 in long with 10 to 13 pairs of leaflets, plus one terminal leaflet. Leaflets are ¾ to 2 ½ in long. Flowers are pale yellow to white with 15 to 60 flowers growing in a compact raceme. Pods are bladder-shaped and inflated turning black with maturity. Seeds detach within the pods and rattle. Pods do not shatter easily and may retain seeds through winter. Seeds are bright yellow or pale green, and are about twice as large as those of alfalfa (figure 2). The seeds have a very hard seed coat which requires chemical or mechanical scarification for adequate germination. There are approximately 130,000 seeds per pound and 65 pounds per bushel. Cicer milkvetch plants can live up to 35 yrs. 2n=2x=64 (Welsh et al 2003).
Cicer milkvetch is primarily pollinated by bumble bees, but may also be visited by other bee species including European honey bees and leaf cutter bees (Richards 1986). Plants are readily eaten by all classes of livestock as hay or pasture. The plants are also eaten by antelope, deer and elk. Cicer milkvetch plants contain no harmful alkaloids, nor do they accumulate toxic amounts of selenium.
Nutrition: Nutritional values for cicer milkvetch compare to other forage legumes such as alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil and sainfoin. Cicer milkvetch has higher leaf:stem ratio and retains leaves longer in season than alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil or sainfoin which equates to higher invitro dry matter digestibility (Loeppky et al 1996).
Distribution: For current distribution, consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Habitat: Cicer milkvetch is native to moist places along streams and ditches of Europe from Finland and Sweden to Spain and east to Russia. The species is now established in pinyon-juniper, sagebrush, mountain shrub and aspen communities in the western United States (Welsh et al 2003).