Thirty-five populations of Medicago polymorpha were collected from throughout Sardinia (Italy) in 1989 with a view to developing pasture species suitable for improving degraded grasslands in the northern Mediterranean basin. Herbage and seed production were compared with the Australian cultivar, Circle Valley, over 2 years at Bonassai, north Sardinia. Regeneration in the 2 years after sowing and seed size were also estimated. All variables were related to collection site parameters using multivariate analysis.
Herbage production varied between 2 and 8 t dry matter/ha, and up to 1·5 t/ha of seed was produced. K-means clustering of agronomic and morphological variables indicated that there were two groups present; one similar to variety polymorpha and one to variety vulgaris. There were two other single entry clusters, one of which contained cv. Circle Valley. Principal component analysis of the environmental variables indicated that cluster 1 (vulgaris) was more likely to come from mountainous areas where winter temperatures are low, and cluster 2 (polymorpha) from coastal areas where temperatures are mild. Regeneration of cluster 1 was better than that of cluster 2, which in turn was better than Circle Valley, indicating that populations in cluster 1 are better adapted to the management system imposed at Bonassai.
The results indicate that M. polymorpha has considerable potential to improve the grasslands of Sardinia. However, it is unlikely that imported cultivars will be successful, and it seems important that the selection of local populations should continue. Commercial seed production in Sardinia is likely to be a problem, and grazing management under the conditions of communal ownership may have to be reviewed. It is important that future research and development involves farmers and other industry groups.