Salinity tolerance and avoidance mechanisms at germination among messina (Melilotus siculus) accessions

Robert P. Jeffery, Megan H. Ryan, Natasha L. Ayers, Phillip G.H. Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Messina (Melilotus siculus) cv. Neptune, an annual pasture legume native to the Mediterranean Basin, has recently been released for saltland pastures in southern Australia following demonstration of biomass production and persistence superior to other commercial pasture legumes in saline environments prone to winter waterlogging. Self-regenerating annual pasture legumes also require seed adaptations for both tolerating and avoiding salinity at germination in these environments. This study examined diversity within Neptune and 20 other messina accessions for salt tolerance at germination, recovery of germinability from temporary salt stress, and timing and extent of hardseed softening, compared with balansa clover (Trifolium michelianum) cv. Frontier, burr medic (Medicago polymorpha) cv. Scimitar and white melilot (Melilotus albus) cv. Jota. Germination rates after 14 days at 300 mM NaCl relative to 0 mM NaCl were ≥99% for Neptune and 18 other messina accessions, 66% for Scimitar, 21% for Jota and 11% for Frontier. No genotype germinated at 600 mM NaCl; however, when transferred to 0 mM NaCl after 14 days at 600 mM, all genotypes except Scimitar and Jota recovered partial germination, ranging from 13% to 93% of controls (0 mM NaCl for 28 days). The softening rate of hard (impermeable) seeds in the field varied among genotypes, with deferral of hardseed softening until late autumn-early winter, when rainfall is more likely, indicating greater persistence. The months in which the hardseed level first became significantly lower than the initial level (in freshly harvested seeds) after placement on the soil surface in December were: March for Frontier; April for Scimitar, Jota and Neptune; and March-July for all messina accessions. This study confirmed that messina has high salt tolerance and several avoidance mechanisms at germination that contribute to its adaptation to saline soils in southern Australia. Several messina accessions were superior to Neptune for individual traits which could be exploited for plant breeding. These results also have implications for saltland pastures in other regions of the world with Mediterranean-type climates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)641-651
Number of pages11
JournalCrop and Pasture Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


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