Georgia horse owners are urged to check alfalfa hay for a toxic weed and to consult with their veterinarians if their animals get sick. Tommy Irvin, the state’s ag commissioner, says the weed has been found in some alfalfa from the Upper Midwest.

“We have a report of 25 horses sickened from eating alfalfa hay from Michigan that contained this plant,” says Irvin. “The horses had swollen legs, fever, and some were showing signs of foundering. What is especially troubling is that the weed was practically invisible in the hay. It was only after close investigation after the horses got sick that the presence of this plant was found.”

Hoary alyssum has round stems and an alternate leaf pattern; the leaves aren’t directly opposite each other but appear alternately up the stem. The dried leaves are fragile, so most will have fractured and become part of the alfalfa “dust” in the bale. Older stems may have a purple blush. Stems may have a slight fuzz or “hoary” appearance.

Native to Europe, the weed is found throughout much of the northern U.S. For more information, read “Hoary Alyssum: Toxicity to Horses, Forage Quality and Control” from the University of Minnesota at www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/livestocksystems/DI5567.html.