1. Family: Fabaceae Lindl.
    1. Genus: Cicer L.
      1. Cicer arietinum L.

        A member of the pea and bean family (Leguminosae/Fabaceae), Cicer arietinum is one of 43 species in the genus CicerCicer is Latin for chickpea and is thought to be the origin of the surname Cicero (as in the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106–43 BC).


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    A member of the pea and bean family (Leguminosae/Fabaceae), Cicer arietinum is one of 43 species in the genus CicerCicer is Latin for chickpea and is thought to be the origin of the surname Cicero (as in the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106–43 BC).

    Chickpea is the third most important pulse in the world (after beans and peas). Its seeds have been eaten by humans since around 7,000 BC. It is widely cultivated for its nutritious seeds, which are harvested when immature and eaten raw, roasted, or boiled or when mature and dry processed into flour. Chickpea is a major protein source for poor communities in many parts of the semi-arid tropical areas of Africa and Asia.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Cicer arietinum is not known as a wild plant but is believed to have originated in the central part of the Fertile Crescent (in modern Turkey, Syria and Iran).

    Evidence suggests that C. reticulatum (sometimes treated as C. arietinum subspecies reticulatum ) from southeastern Turkey might be the wild progenitor of the domesticated plant.

    Chickpea is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate zones, including the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, western and central Asia and northeastern tropical Africa, including Madagascar. It is grown up to 2,500 m above sea level.

    It is not suited to the humid and hot lowland tropics where it fails to flower.


    Overview: A slender, erect annual growing up to 100 cm tall, with simple or branched stems.

    Roots: Extensive root system. Roots bearing nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria (including Mesorhizobium ciceri and M. mediterraneum ).

    Leaves: Divided into 5–7 pairs of leaflets. Leaflets up to 16 mm long and 14 mm wide with toothed margins and weak, spreading, glandular hairs. Triangular stipules (leaf-like appendages) are borne at the leaf base.

    Flowers: Typical pea flowers, up to 12 mm long, borne singly, with white or lilac to violet petals.

    Fruits: A small, inflated and rounded pod, up to 3 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, with glandular hairs.

    Seeds: Roughly spherical, with smooth or rough surface, up to 14 mm in diameter. Variable in colour, usually creamy-whitish when dried. One or two seeds per pod.

    Many cultivars of chickpea have been described. There are two main groups in cultivation:

    Desi (microsperma) cultivars – producing small, angular seeds with rough, yellow-brown coats. The desi forms predominate in the Indian subcontinent, Ethiopia, Mexico and Iran. They are often used for split peas (dahl) or flour after the hulls are removed.Kabuli (macrosperma) cultivars - producing relatively large, plump seeds with a smooth, cream-coloured coat. The kabuli forms predominate in Afghanistan through western Asia to North Africa and in southern Europe and America (excluding Mexico). They are usually sold whole. Threats and conservation

    Seeds from Cicer species have been stored in the ICRISAT seed bank in Patancheru, India (about 17,000 chickpea accessions), the ICARDA seed bank in Aleppo, Syria (about 10,000 accessions) and the Australia Temperate Field Crops Collection, Victoria, Australia (about 7,700 accessions).

    Many Cicer species from central Asia (most of which are perennial) are not yet represented in seed collections.

    Uses Food

    Chickpea is a major pulse crop with world production of well over 9 million tonnes. India is the world’s main producer and consumer of chickpea. Other major producers include Turkey, Pakistan and Iran. It is also a significant export crop in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

    The earliest remains of chickpea seed have been found in Syria & Turkey and date back to around 7,000 BC. Chickpea was gradually introduced to the western Mediterranean region and Asia and had reached the Indian subcontinent by 2,000 BC.

    Chickpea seeds are an excellent source of protein and contain a wide range of amino acids. They are high in fibre, low in fat and contain phosphorus, calcium and iron.

    Immature seeds are consumed fresh, boiled or roasted and salted as snacks. Canned chickpea seeds are popular in the United States and Europe. In the Indian subcontinent, most chickpeas are processed into flour (Bengal gram, besan flour) for cooking bhajis, pakoras and breads. Chickpea flour can also be used to make gluten-free cakes.

    Dhal is a dish made from split chickpeas with the seed coats removed. The seeds are often dried and then cooked to make a thick soup or ground into flour for snacks and sweetmeats.

    Hummus is a dip or spread made using cooked and mashed chickpea seeds (mixed with tahini (sesame seed paste), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt) and is a traditional dish in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa.

    Sprouted chickpea seeds are eaten as a vegetable or added to salads. Young plants and green pods are eaten like spinach. Chickpea seeds are ground to make flour, which is used to make soup, dhal and bread. Chickpea seeds are prepared with pepper, salt and lemon and served as a side dish.

    Roasted chickpea roots have been used as a coffee substitute.

    Uses - animal feed, medicine, others Animal feed

    Chickpea plants are used as fodder in many developing countries. Seed husks and green or dried stems and leaves are used for stock feed, but they contain appreciable quantities of oxalic acid and are not good as forage. Whole seeds are sometimes milled for animal feed. Cicer hay has been reported as being toxic to horses.

    Traditional medicine

    Glandular secretions of the leaves, stems and pods of chickpea include malic and oxalic acids. These sour-tasting acid exudates can be applied medicinally or used as vinegar. In India these acids used to be harvested by spreading thin muslin over the crop during the night. In the morning the soaked cloth was wrung out and the liquid collected in bottles.

    Chickpea acid exudates have been used to treat bronchitis, catarrh, cholera, constipation, diarrhoea, dyspepsia, flatulence, snakebite, sunstroke and warts. They have also been used as an aphrodisiac and to lower blood cholesterol levels. Germinated chickpea has been reported to be effective in controlling cholesterol level in rats.

    In Chile, a cooked chickpea-milk mixture has been fed to infants, effectively controlling diarrhoea.Chickpea seeds are considered to be anti-bilious (to combat nausea, abdominal discomfort, headache, constipation and gas caused by an excessive secretion of bile).

    Other uses

    Chickpeas can be used to make an adhesive that is suitable for plywood, although it is not water-resistant.

    Chickpea yields starch suitable for textile sizing and gives a light finish to silk, wool and cotton cloth. Chickpea leaves are said to yield an indigo-like dye.

    Kew’s research into chickpea disease-resistance

    Chickpea is a major protein source for poor communities in many parts of the semi-arid tropical areas of Africa and Asia. Chickpea crops can be totally destroyed by insects and diseases. Their wild relatives, however, are often resistant to these pests and pathogens.

    Kew scientists have identified compounds in these wild species that confer this resistance and therefore traditional breeding methods could use these as markers to help introduce resistance into commercial varieties.


    Chickpea thrives in a sunny site in a cool, dry climate on well-drained soils. It is generally grown on heavy black or red soils with a pH of 5.5–8.6. Frost, hailstones and excessive rain can damage the crop. Some cultivars can tolerate temperatures as low as -9.5°C in the early stages or under snow cover.

    The most important chickpea disease worldwide is ascochyta blight caused by the seed-borne fungus Ascochyta rabiei . Chickpea roots can be affected by the nematode worm Meloidogyne javanica (root-knot).

    Pods can be damaged by moth larvae such as Helicoverpa armigera and the cutworm Agrotis ipsilon . Integrated pest management practices, including the selection of tolerant cultivars, pest population monitoring and the use of bio-pesticides and natural enemies, have been developed to reduce reliance on chemical insecticides.

    This species at Kew

    Pressed and dried specimens of Cicer arietinum are held in Kew’s Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details of specimens of some other Cicer species can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

    Specimens of chickpea fruits and seeds, as well as necklaces made from strung chickpea seeds, are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

    Not known in the wild; cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate zones.
    Widely cultivated; not known in the wild.

    In India, chickpea is sometimes adulterated with cheaper, but potentially toxic, grass pea (Lathyrus sativus).


    Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

    Annual erect or spreading herb 0·2–1 m. tall.
    Stems glandular pubescent.
    Leaflets in (3–)5–7(–8) pairs, the rhachis ending in a leaflet, mostly elliptic, 0·7–1·9 cm. long, 0·3–1 cm. wide, aristate or mucronulate, cuneate, the upper two-thirds sharply toothed, glandular pubescent; stipules 2–5-fid.
    Flowers solitary; peduncle 0·7–2 cm. long; pedicels 0·5–1 cm. long; bracts linear, 2–3 mm. long.
    Calyx 7–9 mm. long.
    Corolla white to purplish, the standard mostly darker, 1–2·2 cm. long.
    Pod ovate-oblong, 2–3·5 cm. long, 1–1·7 cm. wide, glandular pubescent, 1–2(–4)-seeded.
    Seeds whitish or pale brownish, of characteristic shape, oblong-obovoid, laterally compressed, with a median groove around two-thirds of the periphery and a curved beak overhanging the round hilum, longest dimension 0·5–1·4 cm., shorter dimension 0·4–1 cm.
    Fig. 152.

    Leguminosae, various authors. Flora Zambesiaca 3:7. 2003

    Erect or prostrate annual herb, pubescent on all parts except the corolla.
    Stems simple or branched from the base, up to 1 m high.
    Leaves imparipinnate, with (3)5–7(8) pairs of leaflets; leaflets subsessile, 7–19 × 3–10 mm, elliptic, mucronate or aristate, cuneate at the base, with the upper two-thirds of the margins conspicuously dentate, glandular pubescent above and beneath; rhachis 25–60 mm long, grooved above; stipules 3–5 × 2–4 mm, ovate to triangular, 2–4-fid.
    Flowers solitary, axillary; peduncle 0.7–2(3) cm long, ending in a small arista 0.2–4 mm long; pedicels 5–12 mm long, recurved in fruit; bracts up to 3 mm long, linear to triangular.
    Calyx tube 3–4 mm long, dorsally gibbous at the base; teeth 4–5 mm long, lanceolate, with prominent midribs.
    Corolla white, or pinkish to purplish, the standard darker; standard 8–10 × 7–10 mm, obovate, glabrous or loosely eglandular pubescent; wings 6–9 × c. 4 mm, obovate, obtuse, asymmetrical at the base, auriculate, the auricle c. 1 mm long; keel 6–8 mm long, the petals adnate for two-thirds of the frontal side of the ventral margin and with a 2–3 mm long claw.
    Stamens 9, united into a sheath 4–5 mm long, free above for 2–3 mm, and 1 stamen free from the base; anthers basi-dorsifixed.
    Ovary 2–3 × 1–1.5 mm, ovate, 1–2(4)-ovulate; style 3–4 mm long; stigma widened after pollination.
    Pod 20–35 × 10–20 mm, elongate-ellipsoid, inflated, densely glandular pubescent.
    Seeds 1–2(4), 7–10 × 5–8 mm, subglobose or oblong-obovoid, with a median groove and a curved beak overhanging the hilum, whitish, yellowish or pale brownish, surface smooth, wrinkled or tuberculate.
    Food and drink, fodder, traditional medicine.



    Found In:

    Iran, Iraq

    Introduced Into:

    Afghanistan, Alabama, Algeria, Andaman Is., Angola, Assam, Baltic States, Bangladesh, Belarus, Canary Is., Central European Rus, China North-Central, Colombia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, East Aegean Is., East European Russia, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, India, Inner Mongolia, Italy, Jawa, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kirgizstan, Krym, Lebanon-Syria, Libya, Madeira, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico Southwest, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, New Guinea, North Caucasus, North European Russi, Pakistan, Peru, Puerto Rico, Qinghai, Queensland, Somalia, South Australia, South European Russi, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Transcaucasus, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, West Himalaya, West Siberia, Xinjiang, Yemen, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

    Common Names


    Cicer arietinum L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Brenan, J.P.M. [6032], United Kingdom K001041573
    Brenan, J.P.M. [2519], United Kingdom K001041574
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5949] K001122617
    s.coll. [Cat. no. 5949] K001122618

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 738 (1753)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [2] Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015) The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan . Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [3] (2014) Australian Plant Census (APC) . Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria. http://www.anbg.gov.au/chah/apc/index.html
    • [4] (2014) Pakistn Journal of Botany 46: 13-18
    • [5] (2012) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 4: 1-431. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [6] (2012) Indian Journal of Forestry 35: 79-84
    • [7] (2012) Preslia. Casopsi Ceské Botanické Spolecnosti 84: 647-811
    • [8] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [9] Garcia-Mendoza, A.J. & Meave, J.A. (eds.) (2012) Diversidad florística de Oaxaca: de musgos a angiospermas (colecciones y listas de especies) , ed. 2: 1-351. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
    • [11] (2011) Saussurea; Travaux de la Société Botanique de Genève 41: 131-170
    • [12] Kral, R., Diamond, A.R., Ginzbarg, S.L., Hansen, C.J., Haynes, R.R., Keener, B.R., Lelong, M.G., Spaulding, D.D. & Woods, M. (2011) Annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Alabama . Botanical reseach institute of Texas
    • [13] Flora of China Editorial Committee (2010) Flora of China 10: 1-642. Science Press (Beijing) & Missouri Botanical Garden Press (St. Louis)
    • [14] (2008) Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 32: 403-500
    • [15] (2008) Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [17] Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008) Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas . SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
    • [22] Lock, J.M. & Ford, C.S. (2004) Legumes of Malesia a Check-List . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [23] (2003) Flora Zambesiaca 3(7): 1-274. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [24] Kumar, S. & Sane, P.V. (2003) Legumes of South Asia. A Checklist . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [25] Govaerts, R. (1999) World Checklist of Seed Plants 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. MIM, Deurne
    • [26] Jørgensen, P.M. & León-Yánes, S. (eds.) (1999) Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador . Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis
    • [28] Wood, J.R.I. (1997) A handbook of the Yemen Flora . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [29] Yakovlev, G.P., Sytin, A.K. & Roskov, Y.R. (1996) Legumes of Northern Eurasia. A checklist . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [30] MacKee, H.S. (1994) Catalogue des plantes introduites et cultivées en Nouvelle-Calédonie , ed. 2: 1-164. Museum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris
    • [31] (1993) Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 45: i-xl, 1-1286. Missouri Botanical Garden
    • [33] (1990) Flore des Mascareignes 80: 1-235. IRD Éditions, MSIRI, RBG-Kew, Paris
    • [34] (1989) Med-checklist 4: 1-458. Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de Genève
    • [35] Lock, J.M. (1989) Legumes of Africa a check-list . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [40] (1979) Flora Iranica 140: 1-89. Naturhistorisches Museums Wien
    • [41] (1974) Flora of Iraq 3: 1-662. Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform, Baghdad
    • [43] Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1968) Flora Europaea 2: 1-469. Cambridge University Press


    • [10] Zohary, D., Hopf, M. & Weiss, E. (2012). Domestication of Plants in the Old World, 4th Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • [16] Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses, 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
    • [18] Bosch, C. H., Borus, D. J. & Brink, M. (eds) (2007).  Cereals and Pulses of Tropical Africa - Conclusions and Recommendations based on
      PROTA 1: ‘Cereals and Pulses’
      . PROTA Foundation, Wageningen, Netherlands.
    • [19] Davies, A. M. R., Maxted, N. & van der Maesen, L. J. G. (2007). A natural infrageneric classification for Cicer (Leguminosae, Cicereae). Blumea 52: 379–400.
    • [20] van der Maesen, L. J. G., Maxted, N., Javadi, F., Coles, S. & Davies, A. M. R. (2007). Taxonomy of the genus Cicer revisited. In: Chickpea Breeding and Management, S. S. Yadav, R. Redden & W. Chen (eds), Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, India.
    • [21] Bejiga, G. & van der Maesen, L. J. G. (2006). Cicer arietinum. In: PROTA 1: Cereals and Pulses/Céréales et Légumes Secs [CD-Rom], M. Brink & G. Belay (eds), PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
    • [27] Coles, S., Maxted, N. & van der Maesen, L. J. G. (1998). Identification aids for Cicer (Leguminosae, Cicereae) taxa. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 55: 243–265.
    • [32] Geervani, P. (1991). Utilization of chickpea in India and scope for novel and alternative uses. In: Uses of Tropical Grain Legumes: Proceedings of Consultants' Meeting, 27-30 March, 1989, pp. 47–54, ICRISAT Center, Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, India.
    • [36] Cubero, J. I. (1987). Morphology of chickpea. In: The Chickpea, M.C. Saxena & K.B. Singh (eds), pp. 35–66, CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
    • [37] Muehlbauer, F. J. & Singh, K. B. (1987). Genetics of chickpea. In: The Chickpea, M.C. Saxena & K.B. Singh (eds), pp. 99–125, CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
    • [38] van der Maesen, L. J. G. (1987). Cicer L. - origin, history and taxonomy of chickpea. In: The Chickpea, M.C. Saxena & K.B. Singh (eds), pp. 11–34, CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
    • [39] Duke, J. A. (1981). Handbook of Legumes of World Economic Importance. Plenum Press, New York.
    • [42] Purseglove, Tropical Crops 1: 246, fig. 37 (1968).
    • [44] Bak. f., Leguminosae of Tropical Africa: 345 (1929).
    • [45] Popov in Bull. Appl. Bot. Gen. Pl. Breed. 21: 177, figs. 15, 16 (1929).
    • [46] Gams in Hegi, Ill. Fl. Mitt.-Eur. 4 (3): 1498, fig. 1528 (1924).
    • [47] Bak. in Flora of Tropical Africa 2: 172 (1871), pro parte.
    • [48] L., Sp. Pl.: 738 (1753).


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