Chickpea originated in south east Turkey about 8000 years ago. Cytogenetic and morphological evidence indicate Cicer reticulatum L. as the wild ancestor. The cultivated chickpea Cicer arietinum L. is one of nine annual species of the genus Cicer. Within Cicer arietinum are two broad complexes or races, microsperma and macrosperma, that correspond best to two major seed types of chickpea: desi (small) and kabuli (large).
Kabuli chickpea is thought to have evolved from a desi type, probably by mutation. The narrow genetic base of kabulis points to this being a relatively recent event, probably within the last 2000 years.
From its origin in Turkey, chickpea was soon spread overland by traders, both westward to Europe and North Africa and eastward to India, where it arrived about 2000 BC. Kabuli types reached India in the eighteenth century. Two centuries previously, the Spanish and Portuguese had taken kabulis with them to South and Central America, but it took until the 1930’s before chickpea was introduced in California.
The development of chickpea as a commercial crop in Australia began with its evaluation in the mid 1970’s – it was finally established as a commercial crop in the early 1980’s. Although the wild species have been infrequently collected, are difficult to maintain and have not been studied thoroughly, some of the wild species demonstrate attributes that may be useful for genetic improvement of Cicer arietinum.
For example, Cicer judaicum is said to be resistant to fusarium wilt, while some accessions of Cicer bijugum, Cicer judaicum and Cicer reticulatum are resistant to ascochyta blight. As well, Cicer pinnatifidum is resistant to botrytis grey mold. Although crosses between the wild and cultivated species are not generally successful, Cicer reticulatum can be readily crossed with Cicer arietinum to form hybrids that exhibit only slightly reduced pollen fertility and seed set.