The white clover is a forage legume very important for use in temperate pastures in Rio Grande do Sul. However it is more sensitive to water deficit in the soil than other perennial legumes, presenting a lack of persistence in the summer. With the objective of determining morphophysiological traits related to the answer to the water deficit of this species, an experiment was carried out in greenhouse, which evaluated the effect of water availability (90 and 40% of the soil moisture field capacity) on seven genotypes belonging to the white clover core collection from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The experimental design used was completely random, with four repetitions, totaling 56 pots. Two evaluations were made, at 130 and 196 days after the sowing, when several traits were measured. The analysis of the results indicated that the water deficit had an outstanding effect on most of the variables, such as plant height (PH), foliar area (FA), number of alive leaves (NAL), length of primary stolon (LPS), dry matter of the aerial part (DMAP), photosynthesis rates (A), conductance (g), and water use efficiency (WUE). In both evaluations, regardless the water availability, there were positive and highly significant correlations (P<0.01) between LPS and NAL (r≥0.51), as well as between FA and PH (r≥0.62). Therefore, the best access under stress was the 1, which presented larger productions of DMAP at the 90% level and one of the most productions of DMAP under stress. The NAL and the A are morphological traits that could be used for early white clover selection for tolerance to water stress.
forage legumes; plant breeding; water deficit; water stress