Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia), is a traditional forage legume whose agricultural use has been in constant decrease in Western Europe since the 1960's. However, growing evidence suggests that it may be of great interest in the context of sustainable agriculture, thanks to numerous beneficial properties (nutritional, environmental and anthelmintic). In the frame of a large project network, an extensive O. viciifolia (and other Onobrychis species) germplasm has been gathered and several accessions were grown in small plots on an experimental field at NIAB, Cambridge. Measurements of morphological and agronomical traits were performed on these plots. Cytological and molecular genetics studies were also carried on the germplasm.Accessions were found to be highly variable in their agronomical traits, with differences in productivity. It was observed that O. viciifolia was relatively resistant to diseases, but that persistence was the main difficulty to overcome. O. viciifolia accessions were also found to be variable in their morphological traits.Statistical analyses on both morphological and agronomical traits showed strong links with accessions' geographic origins. The most important trend observed is a general distinction between Western European accessions and accessions from the rest of the world.It was found that most O. viciifolia were tetraploids, suggesting that agricultural domestication led to polyploidy. Other Onobrychis species were found to be either diploid or tetraploid with varying basic chromosome numbers, which tends to confirm the assumption that an aneuploidy event occurred in Onobrychis genetic history.AFLP and SSR fingerprinting were attempted to investigate O. viciifolia genetic diversity. The potential of these techniques was shown, but the latest improvements needed to obtain solid data were not achieved during this study. Still, it was shown that molecular marker assisted breeding programmes can be elaborated for O. viciifolia.Phylogenetic analyses were performed through sequencing of different DNA regions. Substantial genetic diversity was observed among O. viciifolia accessions, with again a general distinction between Western European accessions and accessions from the rest of the world. A clarification of the Onobrychis genus is suggested, as it appeared that many species must be synonyms, and that many taxonomic sections are weakly supported.Overall, it appeared that O. viciifolia potential has probably not been fully exploited, and that there is an important potential for improvement in the gemplasm studied here. Due to its superiority in animal husbandry and agroecologic impact, O. viciifolia improvement can be suggested as a valuable alternative to extensively used forage legumes.