Temperate pasture legumes (e.g. Trifolium and Medicago spp.) often have a higher phosphorus (P) requirement for maximum productivity than pasture grasses. This is partly attributed to differences between legumes and grasses in their ability to acquire P from soil. We are the first to report differences in root morphology traits important for soil P acquisition in a range of novel pasture legumes being developed for use in temperate pastures of southern Australia. Up to a 3·6‐fold range in specific root length (SRL) (79–281 m root g−1 root) and 6·1‐fold range in root hair length (RHL) (0·12–0·75 mm) was found between the pasture species. The commonly used Trifolium subterraneum and Medicago sativa had relatively low SRLs and short root hairs, while Ornithopus compressus, O. sativus and Biserrula pelecinus had RHLs and SRLs more similar to those of two grass species that were also assessed. Specific root length was highly correlated with average root diameter, and root traits were relatively stable at different plant ages. We surmise that large differences among pasture legume species in the effective volume of soil explored could translate into significant differences in their critical P requirements (i.e. soil P concentration to achieve 90% of maximum shoot yield).