This paper describes variation in the dynamics of seed softening (loss of impermeability) in 20 early-maturing genotypes, including 6 cultivars, of subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.). It reports the effect of 3 sites of seed production in south-western Australia on the pattern of softening in the first summer-autumn and on total softening over the subsequent 2 years. Seeds were softened at a single field location and in a diurnally fluctuating cabinet (60 degrees C/15 degrees C).There was significant variation among genotypes in the pattern of seed softening over the first 5 months after senescence. Cultivars Nungarin, Dwalganup, and Geraldton softened most rapidly in late February, whereas cultivars Dalkeith, Urana, and Izmir softened most rapidly in late March. The duration of field exposure required in order for 50% of the first season's softening to occur ranged from 44 to 108 days among the 20 genotypes. Persistence of hard seeds into the second and third years also varied among genotypes. Of the cultivars, Nungarin and Izmir had the highest levels of residual hard seed after 30 months (5.3% and 3.9%, respectively), whereas Dalkeith had the lowest (0.9%).Site of seed production had a small but significant effect on both the pattern of softening in the first summer autumn and the persistence of hard seeds in subsequent years. Seeds produced in a relatively high-rainfall site (768mm of growing-season rainfall plus supplementary irrigation) had a slower rate of hard seed breakdown than those from either of 2 sites located in the wheatbelt (217 and 423mm growing-season rainfall). Seed softening through exposure in the field and in a 60 degrees C/15 degrees C fluctuating-temperature cabinet was compared for all genotypes. The cabinet treatment was fairly successful in ranking genotypes for relative between-season hardseededness, although it underestimated total softening by an average of 16%. However, the cabinet treatment was a poor predictor of the within-season pattern of seed softening.