Black Medick

The small flowers of Black Medick are delicately pretty. In the autumn, look out for the distinctive black seedpods that give Black Medick, a cousin to the clovers, its name.

Photo: Chase G. Mayers, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Medicago lupulina

Other common names: Nonesuch, Blackweed, Black Hay, Yellow Clover

Conservation status: Common

What to look for:

  • Family: Pea (Fabaceae).
  • Flowers: Small yellow pea-flowers in clusters of up to 50, in a head measuring 3 to 8 mm in diameter.
  • Leaves and stem: Downy leaves in groups of three leaflets on scrambling stem.
  • Fruits: ≤3 mm, turning black as ripen.
  • Length: To 80 cm.
  • Where: Lowland pastures, verges, lawns, disturbed ground, on neutral or calcareous soils.
  • When: Flowers between April and October. Bunches of green fruit pods (length 1 to 2 mm), turning black when ripe, can be spotted in the autumn.
  • Habit: Procumbent to semi-procumbent. Annual or biennial.
  • Similar to: Hop trefoil, Lesser Hop Trefoil.

The bright yellow flowers of Black Medick may be small but, like its cousins in the Clover family, this plant is very attractive to bees, butterflies and moths. Sometimes considered a weed in garden lawns, its long flowering period makes it a welcome feast to pollinators.

Black Medick gets its name from its small kidney-shaped seedpods. These start out green but turn black and hard as they ripen in the autumn. Each cluster of seedpods contains a single seed.

With a global distribution across Europe, Asia and northern Africa, Black Medick has a preference for neutral to base-rich soils. It has become naturalised in the United States.

Did you know…?

…Black Medick is often used as a foodplant in the making of honey: honeybees love it!

…Like the clovers, the medicks can fix nitrogen in the soil (although to a lesser extent than clovers), and have therefore been used in agriculture to improve soil fertility.


Unripe seedpods


Ripe seedpods

More information and references:

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: October 2014
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Upper –
Chase G. Mayers, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; middle – Robert Flogaus-Faust, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; lower (seedpods) – Steve Townsend