Lathyrus clymenum L. (Spanish vetchling)

Crop Type: Open field crop

Breeding system: Predominantly autogamous

The Spanish vetchling (Lathyrus clymenum L.) is an annual species, belonging to the Fabaceae family. It is a Mediterranean grain crop of restricted distribution, still grown today in several Aegean islands such as Thira (Santorini), Anafi and Karpathos (Sarpaki and Jones, 1990). Like other legumes, the seeds are protein-rich and highly nutritious. L. clymenum is known as a fodder crop, as well as a staple food. Wild and weedy forms of L. clymenum are widely distributed in the western and central parts of the Mediterranean basin, from west Turkey to the Iberian Peninsula, and from Cyrenaica to Morocco (Zohary et al. 2012). In relation to other legumes, finds of L. clymenum are rather rare. The earliest and largest find came from ca. 4850-4550 cal BP Early Bronze Age II levels of Yenibademli Höyük on the Gökçeada island, Turkey (Oybak-Donmez, 2005). Seeds of L. clymenum have been discovered in a storage room in ca. 3900-3700 cal BP Middle Bronze Age IIA Tel Nami, a coastal site in Israel, suggesting the transport of this pulse from the Aegean basin into the Levant by maritime traders (Kislev, 1993). Large quantities of charred seed of L. clymenum, placed in storage jars, were discovered in Akrotiri, Thera Island, in a house destroyed by the volcanic eruption that devastated this island in ca. 3578 cal BP (Sarpaki and Jones 1990). These authors also reported seeds of this pulse among plant remains retrieved from Late Minoan II Knossos, Crete, and contemporary Phylakopi, Melos. These finds establish L. clymenum as a local, Aegean, Bronze Age domestic plant, which survives today only as a relic (Zohary et al., 2012). All Lathyrus species (such as Lathyrus cicera L., Lathyrus ochrus L. and Lathyrus sativus L.) are cultivated till nowadays as human and animal food. L. clymenum is an important legume in the Mediterranean diet, not only because of its taste, but also for its nutrients that contribute to a healthy diet. Its cultivation focuses on the production of dry grains ‘Fava’. However, the production and consumption of fresh grain and fresh pods by local people is common too. Another meaning of ‘Fava’ corresponds to a traditional Greek dish that is in the form of thick slurry and is made from dried, peeled and crushed cotyledons of species of the Fabaceae family. In different places of Greece fava can be produced from faba bean (Vicia faba L.) locally called ‘kouki’, from pea (Pisum sativus L., P. arvense L.) locally called ‘arakas’’ and from various Lathyrus spp. (L. sativus L., L. ochrus L.). For the production of ‘Fava Santorinis’, only the seeds of the species L. clymenum with some traditional name ‘arakas’ are used.

L. clymenum is a predominantly self-pollinating plant, but significant levels of cross pollination can occur. In the genus Lathyrus the cultivated species are preferably autogamous (Ben Brahum et al. 2001) with several flowers being receptive to insect-mediated pollen transfer into their raceme. This results in the so-called geintonogamous selfing (Richards 1997).

  • Ben Brahum N, Combes D, Marrakchi W (2001) Autogamy and allogamy in genus Lathyrus. Lathyrus Lathyrism Newsl 2: 21–25.
  • Kislev ME, Artzy M, Marcus E (1993) Import of an Aegean food plant to a Middle Bronze IIA coastal site in Israel. Levant XXV: 145-154.
  • Oybak Dönmez E (2005) Early Bronze Age Crop Plants from Yenibademli Höyük (Gökçeada), Western Turkey. Environmental Archaeology 10: 39-49
  • Richards AJ (1997) Plant breeding systems (2nd ed). Chapman & Hall, London, p. 529.
  • Sarpaki A, Jones G (1990) Ancient and Modern Cultivation of Lathyrus clymenum L. in the Greek Islands. The Annual of the British School at Athens 85: 363-368. Doi: 10.1017/S0068245400015720
  • Zohary D, Hopf M, Weiss E (2012) Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Sothwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin (4th ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Doi:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199549061.001.0001