New Zealand scientists have made a research breakthrough which they say will allow them to breed improved varieties of white clover, one of the essential pasture plants on farms.
Plant scientists at AgResearch's Grasslands campus in Palmerston North have been able to prove the long-held theory that white clover originated as a hybrid of other varieties.
Using DNA analysis and breeding techniques they have also been able to trace white clover's European ancestors to an alpine species and a coastal type that probably hybridised during the Ice Age.
Research leader Warren Williams says now they've identified the original species, they can use them to breed clovers offering new benefits for farming.
He says it's possible to make what's known as synthetic white clover by crossing these ancestors.
But Dr Williams says it is also possible to cross white clover with its coastal ancestor, and it turns out to be quite draught tolerant.
He says the cross-breeding will enable plant scientists to bring across all sorts of potential new traits for pest resistance and drought, and even ability to grow in low phosphate soils.