Description and Adaptation

Lentil (Lens culinaris L.) is a pulse crop that is part of the Leguminosae family. Lentil plants are typically short but can range from 20 to 75 cm (8-30 inches) in height.

Lentil seed undergoes hypogeal germination where the cotyledons remain below ground. The first two nodes on the stem develop below, or at the soil surface and are known as scale nodes (Figure 1). If young lentil seedlings are injured by late spring frost, heat canker, or wind damage, the plants will re-grow from a scale node below the soil surface. The third node on the stem is the usual site of the first true leaf. Lentil seedlings can produce a new node every four to five days under good growing conditions. Leaves are about 5 cm long with nine to 15 leaflets. Just prior to flowering, new leaves will develop a short tendril at the leaf tip. At this time, the first flower clusters can be seen developing at the base of the leaves.

Lentil plants have an indeterminate growth habit. Plants continue to flower until they encounter some form of stress, such as lack of moisture, high temperatures, or nutrient deficiency.

Flowers are self-pollinated. Flower stalks produce one to three flowers, which develop pods. Pods are less than 2.5 cm in length and usually contain one or two seeds. Vigorously growing lentil plants with adequate space will produce two or more primary shoots from the base of the stem. However, the main contribution to seed yield is made by secondary (aerial) branches that arise from the uppermost nodes of the main stem just below the first flowering node. Up to five aerial branches may develop on the main stem. When growing conditions are suitable for extremely high yield, the secondary branches also produce additional seed-bearing branches. Flowers that form after the first week of August may not produce filled seeds by harvest.

Figure 1. Lentil seedling
Source: Pulse Production Manual 2000

Lentil is a cool season crop with a relatively shallow root system (0.6 metres (m)) and is moderately resistant to high temperature and drought. Lentil requires at least moderate moisture; 15 to 25 cm during the growing season to produce a full seed set. Due to its indeterminate growth habit, lentil will often continue to flower as long as growing conditions remain favourable for vegetative growth. Therefore, low moisture or low nitrogen stress is required to encourage seed set and hasten maturity. Excess moisture before the plant is in full bloom can delay and reduce seed set. Excess moisture near the time of harvest encourages the spread of fungal diseases. Lentil does best on level or slightly rolling land in soil with pH levels of 6.0 to 8.0, and will not tolerate water-logging, flooding, or soils with high salinity.

In Saskatchewan, lentil is best adapted to the Brown and Dark Brown soil zones but can be grown successfully in the Thin Black and Black soil zones in years without excessive moisture. With the development of more determinate red and small green varieties there is opportunity to expand lentil production into the cooler moist lentil growing areas of the province such as the moist Dark Brown and Thin Black soil zones.

Lentil is well suited to direct seedling and planting on stubble.