I want to highlight a plant that I don’t hear a lot of people talking about – Black Medic (aka Medicago lupulina). Black Medic is a Florida native that is a nitrogen fixer, pollinator attractor, and medicinal plant. All of these pictures were taken in my front yard this morning (in Central Florida), and demonstrate just how dominant, beautiful, and beneficial this plant can be. As you can see from this first picture, Black Medic seeds prolifically and will grow into thick stands in the spring.
The third and fourth pictures are from a plant I pulled out of the ground. You can see the nodules on these roots, which are the homes of bacteria living symbiotically within the plant’s flesh. These bacteria, in exchange for plant sugars, provide the plant with ammonia based nitrates they convert from atmospheric nitrogen, which plants are unable to use. Black Medic is one of a select number of plants referred to as “nitrogen fixers” which, with the help of these bacteria, are able to convert and use their own nitrogen, one of the most essential of plant nutrients. This ability allows them to live in nutrient deficient soils and provide for nearly all of their needs literally out of thin air. Carbon, also taken in from the atmosphere, along with this converted nitrogen, largely make up the biomass of the plant. Once the plant dies its accumulated biomass is then returned to the soil for other organisms and plants to use. This is one of the major sources through which soil is built over time.
Black Medic is also used by herbalists as a tea or infusion for it’s calming effect. Shoot, it relaxes me just knowing that it exists. And it’s flowering right now! so go see where it is growing around your yard and collect some seeds!