Pisum arvense Linn. Leguminosae. Field Pea. Grey Pea.
Eurasia. This is the pea most commonly cultivated in Egypt and it is also grown in India. In China, this pea is eaten and seems to have been introduced from the country of the Vigurs, during the T'ang time. This species is considered by Lindley as the original of all our cultivated peas. In Scotland and England, some or more varieties of the field pea are grown. A variety allied to this species has been found in the ancient lacustrine deposits of Switzerland.
Pisum jomardi Schrank. Egyptian Pea.
Egypt. This species is edible and is perhaps cultivated.
Pisum sativum Linn. Pea.
Europe and northern Asia. The pea in India goes back to a remote period as is shown by its Sanscrit name. The discovery of its seed in a tomb at Thebes proves it to have been an ancient Egyptian plant. It was seen in Japan by Thunberg, 1776. Its culture among the Romans is evident from its mention by Columella, Pliny and Palladius. There is every reason to believe, from the paucity of description, that peas were not then in their present esteem as a vegetable and were considered inferior to other plants of the leguminous order. The first distinct mention of the garden peas is by Ruellius in 1536, who says there are two kinds of peas, one the field pea and trailing, the other a climbing pea, whose fresh pods with their peas were eaten. Green peas, however, were not a common vegetable at the close of the seventeenth century. The author of a life of Colbert, 1695, says: "It is frightful to see persons sensual enough to purchase green peas at the price of 50 crowns per litron." This kind of pompous expenditure prevailed much at the French Court, as will be seen by a letter of Madame de Maintenon, dated May 10, 1696. "This subject of peas continues to absorb all others," says she, "the anxiety to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the desire to eat them again, are the three great matters which have been discussed by our princes for four days past. Some ladies, even after having supped at the Royal table and well supped too, returning to their own homes, at the risk of suffering from indigestion, will again eat peas before going to bed. It is both a fashion and a madness."
In England, it is not until after the Norman Conquest and the establishment of monastic communities that we read of green peas being used. In Fosbrook's British Monasticon, it is stated that at Barking Nunnery the annual store of provisions consisted among other things of green peas for Lent, and, in Archaeologia in Order and Government of a Nobleman's House, they are again mentioned. In 1299, the English forces, while besieging a castle in Lothian, were compelled to feed on the peas and beans of the surrounding fields. At the present time, in varieties, they are grown as far north as Hammer-test and Lapland.
Peas were early introduced to the American Continent, but, in notices of this plant, the word Reason refers sometimes, it is probable, to beans. In 1493, Reason are mentioned by Peter Martyr as grown at Isabela Island by Columbus; in 1535, Reason are mentioned by Cartier as grown by the Indians of Hochelaga, now Montreal; and in 1613, peas were obtained from the French traders grown by the Indians of the Ottawa River; in 1540, peas are mentioned in New Mexico by Alarcon and "small, white peas" by Coronado; in 1562, Reason were cultivated by the Florida Indians, as related by Ribault. In 1602, peas were sown by Gosnold on the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts, according to Smith; in 1629, in Massachusetts, there was a "store of green peas," "as good as ever I eat in England," growing in the governor's garden, according to Rev. Francis Higginson. In 1614, peas were mentioned by Smith as grown by the New England Indians. In 1690, Bancroft says Spanish peas were grown by the Indians of Mexico, and, in 1775, Romans says green peas were obtained the year round at Mobile, Alabama. In 1779, Gen. Sullivan's expedition against the Indians of western New York destroyed the growing peas of the Indians who occupied the territory near Geneva.
If we trace the antiquity of the various forms which include varieties, we find the varieties noted are innumerable and occur with white and green seed, with smooth and with wrinkled seed, with seed black-spotted at the hilum, with large and small seed, as well as with plants of large and small aspects, dwarf, trailing, and tall plants, and those with edible pods.
White and Green Peas.—Lyte, in his edition of Dodonaeus, 1586, mentions the trailing pea, or what Vilmorin classifies as the half-dwarf, as having round seed, of color sometimes white, sometimes green.
Smooth Seeded.—Dodonaeus, in his Frumentorum, 1566, describes this form under Pisum minus, a tall pea, called in Germany erweyssen; in Brabant, erwiten; in France, pois; by the Greeks, ochron; the pods containing eight to ten round peas of a yellow color at first, then green. This pea was called in England, Middle Peason, in 1591.
Wrinkled Seed.—The first certain mention of wrinkled seed is by Tragus in 1552, under Phaseolus. These are also recorded in Belgian and German gardens by Dodonaeus in his Frumentorum, 1566, under Pisum majus, the dry seed being angular, uneven, of a white color in some varieties and of a sordid color in others. He calls them roomsche erwiten, groote erwiten, stock erwiten, and the plant he says does not differ from his Pisum minus and indeed he uses the same figure for the two. Pena and Lobel, 1570, describe the same pea as in Belgian and English gardens, under the name Pisum angulosum hortorum quadratum Plinii, with seed of a ferruginous and reddish color. Lobel, 1591, figures the seed, using the name Pisum quadratum, and it seems to be the Great Peason, Garden Peason, or Branch Peason of Lyte in 1586, as he gives Dodonaeus' common names as synonyms. In 1686, Ray describes this class under the name Rouncival and refers to Gerarde's picture of Pisum majus, or Rowncivall Pease, in 1597, as being the same. This word Rouncival, in white and green varieties, was used by McMahon in 1806, and Rouncivals by Gardiner and Hepburn in 1818 and Thorburn in 1828. The first good description of the seed is, however, in 1708, when Lisle calls it honey-combed or pitted. Knight, a nurseryman of Bedfordshire, before 1726, did much for the improvement of the pea and sent out several wrinkled varieties. Up to Knight's time the wrinkled peas do not seem to have been in general esteem. The Knight pea, the seed rough, uneven, and shrivelled, the plant tall, was in American gardens in 1821, and a number of Knight's peas are under cultivation at present.
Black-eyed Peas.—These are mentioned as an old sort by Townsend in 1726 and are now grown under the name of Black-eyed Marrowfat.
Dwarf Peas.—These are mentioned by Tournefort in 1700 and are referred by him to 1665. There is no earlier distinct reference.
Half-Dwarfs.—These are the ordinary trailing peas as mentioned by the earlier botanies, as, for instance, the Pisum minus of Camerarius, 1586.
Tall Peas.—These are the forms described by the early botanies as requiring sticking, as the Pisum majus of Camerarius, 1596, the Pisum of Fuchsius, 1542, and Phasioli or faselen of Tragus, 1552.
Edible-Podded or Sugar Peas.—The pods and peas of the large, climbing pea, as also the green pods of the trailing form, are recorded as eaten by Ruellius in 1536, and this manner of eating is recorded by later authors. We now have two forms, those with straight and those with contorted pods. The first of these is figured by Gerarde, 1597; is described by Ray in 1686 and Tournefort in 1700. The second form is mentioned by Worlidge in 1683 as the Sugar pease with crooked pods, by Ray as Sickle pease. In the Jardinier Franﾍais, 1651, Bonnefonds describes them as the Dutch pea and adds that until lately they were very rare. Roquefort says they were introduced into France by the French ambassador in Holland about 1600. In 1806, McMahon includes three kinds among American esculents.
Number of Varieties.—About 1683, Meager names 9 kinds in English culture; in 1765 Stevenson, 34 kinds; in 1783, Bryant names 14; in 1806, McMahon has 22 varieties; Thorburn's Calendar, 1821, contains n sorts, and this seed catalog of 1828 has 24 sorts; in 1883, Vilmorin describes 149; in the report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station for 1884, 93 varieties are described in full.