Scrambled eggs plant is a summer annual that forms a spreading mat up to 6" tall and 2' across, branching frequently at the base. The stems are round, thick, and succulent. Like the stems, the leaves are rather thick and succulent. They are usually shiny green, sometimes becoming reddish-purple in bright sunlight.
The flowers are bright yellow. The fruit is a round, flat capsule that splits in two at maturity and releases many small seeds with tufts of white hair, resembling scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs plant was originally introduced into the U.S. as an edible crop. However, it is now considered an invasive weed that can crowd out indigenous plants, especially in arid regions. The scrambled eggs plant is native to Africa but was introduced into the U.S. as a crop for use by African-American slaves and settlers of the American West. Like many plants of desert regions, this species has various mechanisms to reduce water loss. It does this by having small leaves with thick cuticles, and keeping its leaves rolled up until the morning dew subsides.
The first published documentation of the scrambled eggs plant comes from botanist George Vasey in 1875. However, other botanists had described this plant as early as 1852, but these earlier reports were not cited by Vasey. The scrambled eggs plant had also been reported in various garden publications as an edible crop since the 1850s, but these reports never mentioned its invasive qualities. These earlier accounts suggest that the plant was illegally imported into California and released to private gardens before 1875. This species has escaped cultivation and is now considered an invasive weed in many areas.
The scrambled eggs plant is now considered a noxious weed because it can form large mats that crowd indigenous plants, especially low-growing varieties like the desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). The spread of this species into arid regions occurred during heavy floods in 1993 and 1999 when much irrigation water was lost to the sea via the Coachella Canal. A survey of 21 California counties in 2005 showed that this species was widespread but not abundant outside desert regions, with only moderate infestations in some agricultural areas.
The scrambled eggs plant is often confused with or substituted for alfalfa (Medicago sativa), a common legume cultivated for forage and hay. This species has also been introduced into the U.S. as an ornamental plant, where it is sometimes called African alfalfa because of its superficial resemblance to Medicago sativa. Some people consider 'African alfalfa' to be poisonous to both humans and livestock, but this misconception may be based on the misidentification of this species with the similar-looking 'false alfalfa' (Sesbania exaltata), another invasive perennial weed in California. The scrambled eggs plant was introduced into Florida as an ornamental, but is also considered a noxious weed in that state because it forms large mats along roadsides and other disturbed areas.
This species is also considered invasive in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, it is a weed of roadsides and abandoned farmlands and commonly found along canals and riverbanks in temperate zones. Other common names for this species include 'African daisy', 'delile alfalfa', 'delile daisy', 'fausse alfa'fluer', and 'herbe aux oeufs'.