Dorycnium hirsutum (L.) Ser. and Dorycnium rectum (L.) Ser. are Mediterranean perennial legumes that may have potential as alternative forage plants to Medicago sativa (lucerne, alfalfa) for low rainfall dryland agriculture. Strategies for surviving periods of water deficit are vital for perennial plants in water-limited environments. This experiment compared leaf physiological and morphological adaptations to increasing water deficit among D. hirsutum, D. rectum and M. sativa. Plants were grown in the glasshouse in large pots (7.8 L, 1 m deep, 10 cm diameter) containing a sandy clay loam (14% available water content) to limit differences between root foraging among the species. Watering was withheld for 21 days and predawn and midday leaf water and osmotic potential were determined. Mid-morning rates of gas exchange were measured at five times as soil water was depleted. After 35 days of withholding water, plant recovery was measured. D. hirsutum and M. sativa reduced stomatal conductance at leaf water potentials below -1.8 MPa and water-stressed D. hirsutum osmotically adjusted by up to 0.68 MPa. D. rectum differed from the other species; leaf water potential was maintained at high levels until soil water content had reached low levels, and reductions in stomatal conductance and photosynthesis were not associated with leaf water potential. D. hirsutum and M. sativa displayed leaf morphological adaptations that may contribute to greater resistance of water deficit. Only one of five D. rectum plants survived the water-stress treatment compared to five of five for D. hirsutum and four of five for M. sativa. The water relations and physiology of D. hirsutum observed in this study suggest that it possesses adaptations suitable for arid environments. On the other hand, the poor survival and water relations of D. rectum indicate that it is poorly adapted to situations where water deficit is common.