Ninety-one perennial legumes and herbs (entries) from 47 species in 21 genera were evaluated at sites in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia over 3 years from 2002 to 2005 to identify plants with superior herbage production, persistence and the potential to reduce ground water recharge. Evaluation was undertaken in three nurseries (general, waterlogged soil and acid soil). Medicago sativa L. subsp. sativa (lucerne) cv. Sceptre was the best performing species across all sites. In the general and acid soil nurseries, Cichorium intybus L. (chicory) cv. Grasslands Puna was the only species comparable with Sceptre lucerne in terms of persistence and herbage production. Trifolium fragiferum L. cv. Palestine and Lotus corniculatus L. SA833 were the best performing species on heavy clay soils prone to waterlogging. Three Dorycnium hirsutum (L.) Ser. accessions persisted well on acid soils, but were slow to establish. Short-lived perennial forage legumes, such as Onobrychis viciifolia Scop. cv. Othello, and three Hedysarum coronarium L. entries, including cv. Grasslands Aokou, had high herbage production in the first 2 years and may be suitable for short-term pastures in phased pasture-crop farming systems. T. uniflorum L. and M. sativa subsp. caerulea SA38052 were highly persistent and could play a role as companion species in mixtures or ground cover species for undulating landscapes. Cullen australasicum (Schltdl.) G.W. Grimes SA4966 and Lotononis bainesii Baker cv. Miles had poor establishment, but were persistent. Chicory, T. fragiferum and L. corniculatus were identified as species, other than lucerne, with the most immediate potential for further selection to increase the diversity of perennial legumes and herbs adapted to southern Australian environments.