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the web of life in southern Africa

Pisum sativum (Field and Garden Pea)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Rosids > Eurosid I > Fabales > Family: Fabaceae > Subfamily: Papilionoideae

Pisum sativum (Field and Garden Pea)
Pisum sativum (Field and Garden Pea)

Pisum sativum, Vienna Botanical Gardens, Austria. [photos H.G. Robertson, Iziko ]

Originates from the Near East, was being eaten by people at least 9500 years ago, and by 8500 years ago there is evidence of pea cultivation.

Peas originate from the Near East where they have been found in archaeological sites that date back to 7500 BC. However, the characteristic features of domestication (e.g. smooth seed coats) only become clearly evident by 6500 BC. Cultivation of peas in the Near East therefore occurred a long time ago but seemingly not as long ago as wheat and barley which were being cultivated by about 7800 BC. Nevertheless, it appears that peas were growing or being grown in company with wheat and barley during the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic. Lentil and Chickpea were also being grown and together with Pea were the main non-meat protein food sources (peas have about 22 % protein). Pea cultivation had spread to central Europe by 4000 BC and by 2000 BC it had spread throughout Europe and also east into India.

Pisum sativum is morphologically highly variable and is predominantly self-pollinated which means one can easily develop different true breeding lines. These features were instrumental in the success of the classical genetic experiments performed by Gregor Mendel with this species.

Peas originally were grown to full size and stored dry. However, in modern times they are more often picked green before maturity and eaten fresh. 


  • Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

  • Zohary, D. & Hopf, M. 1993. Domestication of plants in the old World - The origin and spread of cultivated plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Text by Hamish Robertson