Sorghumis particularly drought tolerant compared with other cereal crops and is favoured for subsistence farming
in water scarce regions of the world. This study was conducted to identify South African sorghum landraces
with superior drought tolerance compared with a drought-tolerant breeding line (P898012). Seedlings of 14
South African sorghumlandrace accessions were initially screened for drought tolerance by assessing percentage
leaf water content (LWC) during progressive water deficit. Four landraces (designated LR5, LR6, LR35, and LR36)
recorded higher LWC than P898012. These were subsequently evaluated with P898012 during the reproductive
growth stage, for their physiological responses to mild (4 days) and severe (6 days)water stress treatments and a
moderate re-watered treatment on day 7. Plant height, soil moisture, and LWC were measured during harvests.
Chlorophyll, carotenoid, and proline contents were quantified. All five genotypes maintained LWC above 80%
during mild and severe stress treatments. For LR35 and LR36, LWC were recorded within 8% less in comparison
to their well-watered controls following the moderate re-watered treatment. Significantly higher chlorophyll
and carotenoid contents were recorded for both LR6 and LR35 in comparison to P898012 during severe stress.
When LWC was reduced in LR36 (to 73.68%) and LR35 (to 73.51%), their proline content significantly increased
by 14- and 16-fold, respectively. In this study,we have identified four previously uncharacterised sorghum genotypes
exhibiting drought tolerance and described their physiological responses during water deficit and moderate
re-watering. Aside from their application to breeding, these landraces are valuable resources to elucidate
genetic mechanisms that enable drought tolerance in South African sorghum.