Plant Genetic Resources

Research Article

Exploring the wider potential of forage legumes collected from the highlands of Eritrea

Richard Snowballa1a2a3 c1, Amanuel Mahderea4, Eskender Tesfaya4, Mehreteab Aberraa1, Regina M. Carra5 and Mario F. D' Antuonoa1

a1 DAFWA, Grains Industry Division, 3 Baron-Hay Court, South Perth, WA 6151, Australia

a2 CLIMA, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

a3 Future Farm Industries CRC, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

a4 Hal Hale Research Centre, National Agricultural Research Institute, Eritrea

a5 Centre for Rhizobium Studies, School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch 6150, Australia


This is the first report of a pasture plant collecting mission to the highlands of Eritrea and a preliminary examination of the potential of species for both Eritrea and southern Australia. In 2004, seeds from 53 legume species were collected from 58 locations in the southern highlands between Keren, Adi Quala and Senafe. Strains of Rhizobium from 18 species were also collected. Seed collections of 11 species with Rhizobium were established in germplasm nurseries at the Medina Research Station, Western Australia between 2005 and 2010. Observations on their growth, flowering and seed production were recorded. Based on a climate match analysis and observations from germplasm nurseries, it was suggested that species with most promise for parts of southern Australia include the annual legume Biserrula pelecinus ssp. leiocarpa and the perennial shrub Colutea abyssinica. The greatest potential, however, is reserved for the highlands of Eritrea where germplasm is well adapted. Species found low in the landscape including from the genera Lotus, Trifolium and Medicago appeared well utilized. Different species found higher in the landscape including from the genera Indigofera, Tephrosia, Crotalaria, Trifolium schimperi, B. pelecinus ssp. leiocarpa and C. abyssinica were much less common, appeared under-utilized and may be under threat from genetic erosion. Animal production on the non-arable dry hillsides of the highlands would benefit from better utilization of these species through replanting some areas, careful grazing management and demonstration of the benefits of increasing the native legume component of these wild pastures.

(Received July 31 2012)

(Accepted November 22 2012)

(Online publication January 10 2013)

Key Words:

  • climate match;
  • Eritrean highlands;
  • germplasm nursery;
  • pasture legume;
  • Rhizobium collection;
  • seed collection


c1 Corresponding author. E-mail: