Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
Lentil (Lens culinaris Medikus) is a dietary mainstay and one of the principal pulse crops in the drier regions of the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent. The seed provides an important source of protein to people of these regions, where lentil straw is valued for animal production. Lentil is grown to a lesser extent in southern Europe and the Americas, and as a field legume it is usually grown in rotation with cereals. The major factor in the domestication of lentil has been selection pressure for an appropriate phenology (Erskine et al. 1989). This force still drives the ICARDA breeding strategy. Most accessions of lentil in the ICARDA collection came from the West Asia and North Africe (WANA) region, which is the centre of origin and primary diversity (Zohary and Hopf 1988). The strategy has led to the successful use of landraces from the collection for direct release as cultivars for the WANA region and beyond. Separate programmes target improvements for the diverse environments in which lentil is grown in the developing world.
BOTANY AND DISTRIBUTION
Lentil is derived from the genus Lens, which describes the shape of the cultivated lentil seed. The genus Lens Miller belongs to the order Rosales, suborder Rosinae, family Leguminosae and subfamily Papilionaceae, in the tribe Vicieae (Kupicha 1981). Lens is characterized by small-flowered, low annual herbs. Cultivated lentil is a slender, pilose annual, 20–40 cm tall, long-day plant. All species in the genus are diploid with 2n=14 and have similar karyotypes.