, 213:179 | Cite as

Promising options for improving performance and proanthocyanidins of the forage legume sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.)

  • Roland Kölliker
  • Katharina Kempf
  • Carsten S. Malisch
  • Andreas Lüscher
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Plant Breeding: the Art of Bringing Science to Life. Highlights of the 20th EUCARPIA General Congress, Zurich, Switzerland, 29 August–1 September 2016


Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.) is an underutilized perennial forage legume with high potential as a forage source for ruminants in grassland based livestock production systems. The species is also particularly valued for its content of proanthocyanidins (PA; also known as condensed tannins), which have been shown to improve animal health by reducing bloat, and by diminishing gastro-intestinal parasites, can reduce nitrogen losses through excreted urine and may also have the potential to lower methane emissions. However, sainfoin cultivation is not widespread today, mainly due to the limited availability of high performing cultivars and agronomic constraints such as slow establishment, poor competitive ability and limited yield stability. In this paper, we give an overview on the importance and the potential of sainfoin and review recent findings regarding cultivation practices and the variability observed for agronomic and quality traits. A special focus is placed on the potential and implications for targeted improvement through breeding. Results show that stability of sainfoin yields can be significantly improved when grown in mixtures with appropriate companion species and it was shown that the choice of cultivar, management practices and drought could have an impact on PA content and composition. Various studies demonstrate large variability in agronomic performance, PA concentration and PA composition among and within sainfoin accessions, highlighting the big potential to improve this species by breeding. In addition, we highlight recent advances in breeding research such as high rates of self-fertilization in this generally allogamous species and the development of molecular genetic resources, which build the basis for novel breeding strategies and the targeted exploitation of sainfoin germplasm in the future.


Forage legume Condensed tannins Cultivation practices Marker assisted breeding Self-fertilization 



We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, which helped to substantially improve this manuscript. This work was partially supported by a European Union Marie Curie training network grant (“LegumePlus” PITN-GA-2011-289377). We are grateful to Prof. Irene Mueller-Harvey, University of Reading, UK, for initiating and leading LegumePlus and for encouraging us to work on this interesting plant species.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Molecular Plant Breeding, Institute of Agricultural SciencesETH ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Molecular EcologyAgroscopeZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Forage Production and Grassland SystemsAgroscopeZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Grass and Forage ScienceChristian-Albrechts-Universität zu KielKielGermany

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