Sainfoin (Viciifolia)

The Sainfoin (Viciifolia) is generally described as a perennial forb/herb. This is not native to the U.S. (United States) and has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The Sainfoin (Viciifolia) has green foliage and inconspicuous red flowers, with an abuncance of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Sainfoin (Viciifolia) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Sainfoin (Viciifolia) will reach up to 2.5 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Sainfoin (Viciifolia) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -40°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Sainfoin is nonbloating, and it is a preferred forage for cattle, sheep, deer and elk. They will concentrate their feeding on sainfoin even when other forages are readily available. Honey bees readily visit the pink flowers and sainfoin honey is of excellent quality. Sainfoin seed pods shatter in early fall and the nutritious seed is consumed by birds and rodents.

General Characteristics

Sainfoin is an introduced perennial legume with many tall hollow stems, 60-80 cm or more. Its leaves are compound with 5-l4 pairs of oval-shaped leaflets and a single leaflet at the tip. Sainfoin has conelike clusters fragrant, pinkish- red flowers on the end of long stalks. Seed pods are flat and contain a single dark olive green, brown, or black seed, 4-6 mm. There are 18,000 seeds/pound

Required Growing Conditions

Sainfoin is adapted to areas of the inland Pacific Northwest that receive at least 12 inches of annual precipitation. It is also adapted to much of the Northern Rocky Mountains, Northern Great Plains, and Northern Great Basin. Sainfoin was introduced to North America from Eurasia. Sainfoin grows well on a variety of well-drained soils and performs better than alfalfa on cold soils.

For a current distribution map, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Website.PAAM2.FS (bitter panicgrass)

Cultivation and Care

Sainfoin seed is quite large but must not be seeded deeper than ¾ inch. The seed takes up moisture rapidly and germinates quickly. Seed must be inoculated with the appropriate rhizobium and planted into a firm, well-packed seedbed. Seed should be planted in the spring for best emergence.

General Upkeep and Control

It should not be planted next to shelterbelts because the trees and shrubs will suffer from indiscriminate browsing and other damage by deer and elk. Unconsumed seed will readily germinate on a moist soil surface so adequate residue should left on the field to maintain moist conditions at the soil surface and promote natural recruitment. Allowing the plants to periodically make seed will increase stand longevity.

Pests and Potential Problems Sainfoin is subject to crown rot and the stands may not persist more than 5-6 years in areas subject to heavy infection.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) ‘Eski’ was developed for pasture usage and does not regrow well after the first clipping/grazing. ‘Melrose’ was developed in Canada and has better regrowth. ‘Remont’ is an older variety and has largely been replaced by ‘Melrose’.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Forb/herb
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Introduced to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Crown
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 2.5
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Red
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -40
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Moderate
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–8.5 pH
Precipitation Range 12–12 inches/yr
Planting Density 0–0 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 14
Minimum Frost-Free Days 90 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Medium
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA