A chronology of subterranean clover burr detachment mechanics and implications for seed harvestability

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Seed retention has not been evaluated for subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.), because its geocarpic seed-bearing burrs are currently harvested by suction systems. Development of improved harvest methods requires knowledge of subterranean clover seed retention characteristics and their changes with plant development. This study evaluates burr attachment and peduncle tensile strength during burr maturity until plant senescence across the three subspecies: subterraneum (cv. Dalkeith), yanninicum (cv. Monti) and brachycalycinum (cv. Mawson). Peduncle tensile strength was greater than burr-to-peduncle attachment strength for each subspecies, with peak mean peduncle strength 30-130% greater than peak mean burr-to-peduncle attachment strength. Both strength measurements decreased significantly (greater than 50% for each subspecies) as the plant senesced, which was associated with reductions in burr moisture content, and burr and peduncle diameters. Microscopy indicated a ductile to brittle transition as peduncles senesced, reducing energy absorption and increasing the likelihood of failure at defects. These results are important for the commercial production of subterranean clover seed and suggest it may be possible to harvest seed before plant senescence with dig-invert machinery, similar to that used for peanut harvesting. However, this approach would require harvesting prior to maximum seed development and the implications for seed viability and yield need to be further evaluated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210625
Pages (from-to)20210625
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of the Royal Society, Interface
Issue number184
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


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