Characterization of forage legume genetic resources

Contributors to this page: ILRI, Ethiopia (Jean Hanson); ICARDA, Syria (Ahmed Amri, Kenneth Street, Ali Shehadeh, Natalya Rukhkyan); GRCTPL, Australia (Richard Snowball); Bioversity International/ILRI, Ethiopia (Alexandra Jorge).

Cultural practices

Planting and cultural practices for characterization


Soil type



Plot size

Sampling area/border area

Plant density


Standard check cultivars

Frequency of standard checks

Time of day for data collection

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Morphological descriptors for characterization

See the list of forage legumes descriptors developed by IBPGR (now Bioversity International) and the CEC Secretariat, Brussels (1984).

Specific descriptors are available for:

Flowers of accession 7679 (Lathyrus Sativus) (photo: ILRI)

Characterization of Lathyrus Sativus  (photo: ILRI)

Measuring stems of Lathyrus Sativus (photo: ILRI)

Pictures for characterization

Sufficient detail should be captured in images to taxonomically identify the plant and demonstrate the traits that show variation.

Taking images is very important to show characteristics. Note how hard it would be to describe the above legumes verbally (left: Medicago polymorpha var. vulgaris, right: Medicago truncatula) (photos: ICARDA)

Herbarium samples for characterization

Sufficient detail should be captured to taxonomically identify the plant and demonstrate the traits that show variation.

Molecular descriptors for characterization

Nutritional traits for characterization

The main use of forages is for livestock feed. Nutritional traits are therefore very important. Some common ones include:

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Recording information during characterization

The following information must be recorded for each trial:

General information

Specific information

References and further reading

IBPGR. 1992. Descriptors for White Clover (Trifolium repens). International Board for Plant Genetic Resources, Rome, Italy. 52 pp.

IBPGR, CEC, 1984. Forage Legume Descriptors. International Board for Plant Genetic Resources Secretariat, Rome, Italy: Commission of European Communities Secretariat, Brussels. Available from: Date accessed: 17 Jan 2011.

Van de Wouw M, Hanson J, Nokoe S. 1999. Observation strategies for morphological characterization of forages. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 46:63-71.

Click here for a list of selected references on characterization of forage legume genetic resources.

The Genebanks

The 11 CGIAR genebanks currently conserve 730,000 of cereals and grain legumes, forage crops, tree species, root and tuber crops, bananas and crop wild relatives.