Geographic variation can lead to the evolution of different local varieties, even in widespread forage plants. We investigated the performance of common forage plants in relation to their genetic diversity and local adaptation at a continental scale using reciprocal transplants at eight field sites across Europe over a 2-year period. The overall performance of the three test species, Trifolium pratense, Dactylis glomerata, Plantago lanceolata, was generally highest for plants replanted at their home site and declined with increasing transplanting distance. The three species differed in the fitness components responsible for the increased overall performance and selection advantage at home sites. In addition to the effects of local adaptation, the majority of measured traits in all three species also showed ecotypic variation. However, no single ecotype of any species was able to outperform the locally adapted strains and do best at all sites, highlighting the importance of maintaining these plant genetic resources.