Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 716 Phaseolus vulgaris

Common Names: common bean, green bean, snap bean, kidney bean, string bean, wax bean Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)

pole green beans
A row of 'Blue Lake' pole green beans in Steve's vegetable garden.

Description

Members of the non-profit Seed Savers' Exchange maintain more than 2,500 different varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris, or haricot (from the Aztec) beans. What all these beans have in common are trifoliate compound leaves, bilaterally symmetrical, somewhat showy, flowers, and elongate legumes (pods) that contain from three to a dozen or more usually kidney-shaped seeds. There are dwarf or bush varieties that support themselves, and trailing or climbing varieties (called pole beans) that need support and may extend 15 ft (4.6 m) or more in length. (Beans climb by twining; they do not have tendrils.) Bean flowers may be pink, red, white or yellow and the pods come in various shades and combinations of green, purple, and yellow. Wax beans are so named because their pods are the color of bee's wax, which makes them easy to see amidst the foliage, and purple-podded varieties are popular for the same reason. The beans inside the pods come in every color in the rainbow.

The various types of beans usually are named for their culinary use, especially the stage of development at which they are eaten. Those grown for the immature pods are called snap, string, French or green beans; important cultivars are 'Blue Lake' and 'Kentucky Wonder', the stringless varieties usually grown commercially for canning and freezing, but also popular with home gardeners. 'Romano' and 'Spanish Meralda' are flat-podded stringless snap beans. When the pods swell but have not yet dried, the beans inside are called horticultural or shelly beans; types usually grown for this stage include flageolet, 'Jacob's Cattle' and cranberry beans. When fully dried, the beans are called dry or soup beans, and well known types are navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and black turtle beans. A fourth kind of bean is the popping bean or nuna, grown in the South American Andes and cooked like popcorn. (In high elevations, water boils at too low a temperature to cook dried beans.) Of course, all varieties of P. vulgaris can be eaten in any stage of development.

spanish meralda bean
Spanish Meralda is a flat-podded stringless snap bean.

The various types of beans usually are named for their culinary use, especially the stage of development at which they are eaten. Those grown for the immature pods are called snap, string, French or green beans; important cultivars are 'Blue Lake' and 'Kentucky Wonder', the stringless varieties usually grown commercially for canning and freezing, but also popular with home gardeners. 'Romano' and 'Spanish Meralda' are flat-podded stringless snap beans. When the pods swell but have not yet dried, the beans inside are called horticultural or shelly beans; types usually grown for this stage include flageolet, 'Jacob's Cattle' and cranberry beans. When fully dried, the beans are called dry or soup beans, and well known types are navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and black turtle beans. A fourth kind of bean is the popping bean or nuna, grown in the South American Andes and cooked like popcorn. (In high elevations, water boils at too low a temperature to cook dried beans.) Of course, all varieties of P. vulgaris can be eaten in any stage of development.


Location

The thousands of varieties of green beans all were derived from a wild ancestor that occurs in Central America. Beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, were first domesticated more than 5000 years ago, and by the time the Spaniards arrived in the New World, beans were an important food for natives throughout the Western Hemisphere. Today beans are grown throughout the world and are the most important legume in Europe and North America.

yellow wax bean
Delicious 'Yellow Wax' beans hang around Steve's vegetable garden waiting for dinner.
purple pod
These 'Purple Podded Pole' beans are pretty planted alone or paired with the 'Yellow Wax' beans in the photo below.

Culture

Green beans are easy to grow and the perfect vegetable for a beginning gardener to start with. The young pods of snap beans can be picked within 45-60 days after planting. Dried beans take 90-150 days. Pole beans take longer to mature than bush beans, but they produce over a longer period. Beans, like other legumes, can make their own nitrogen, so they don't need much additional fertilizer; in fact, too much fertilizer will result in a tangle of foliage but not many pods. See Floridata's garden pea profile for an explanation of nitrogen-fixing in legumes. Light: Like most vegetable crops, green beans need full sun. Moisture: Green beans need regular garden watering to produce good crops. If the soil is allowed to dry out too much, some of the beans in the pods will not develop. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 11. Green beans are frost-tender annuals that are planted after the last expected frost. Beans will not germinate in soil colder than about 55ºF (10ºC), so don't waste your time or your seeds by planting too early. Propagation: Plant green beans an inch or two deep and three or four inches apart in rows three or four feet apart. Climbing varieties need a trellis or poles, and even bush varieties will do better if you stick a branch or twig in the ground for them to climb on. Another method for climbing beans is to build a teepee with bamboo or some other kind of poles and plant the beans so they can climb up the poles.

Usage

Harvest green beans for use in the pod stage before they fill out fully; this will encourage more flowering and thus more pods, and the beans are most tender at this stage. Beans will produce for about three weeks, so start successive plantings to insure a continuous harvest throughout the season. Shelly beans are harvested when the pods are fully swollen, but not yet dry. These are then shelled before cooking. For dry beans, wait until the pods begin to dry and turn brown before harvesting, then allow the pods to dry thoroughly before shelling. Dried beans require a longer cooking time than shelly beans, and they are more likely to induce flatulence.

been leaf roller
The caterpillar of the long-tailed skipper butterfly is the bean leaf roller. It eats bean leaves, but rarely enough to be any kind of problem.

Features

There are four species in the genus Phaseolus that commonly are grown for food: P. vulgaris (common bean); P. lunatus (lima beans and butter beans); P. acutifolius (tepary bean); and P. coccineus (runner bean). There are more than 12,000 species in the bean family, and only the aster family and the orchid family have more species. There are about 30 species in the bean family that are commonly grown for human food, and only the grass family is more important to Mankind. Some important legumes are: peanut (Arachis hypogea); garbanzo bean or chick pea (Cicer arietinum); soybean (Glycine max); lentil (Lens culinaris); garden pea (Pisum sativum); winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus); fava or broad bean (Vicia faba); pigeon pea (Cajanus cajun); hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab); cowpea or southern pea, including black-eyed pea, cream pea and yard-long or asparagus bean (Vigna unguiculata); mung bean (V. radiata); adzuki bean (V. angularis); and jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus), which is grown for its edible root.

Steve Christman 6/16/00; updated 8/16/03, 1/20/05



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Phaseolus species profiled on Floridata:


Phaseolus acutifolius

( tepary bean )

Phaseolus coccineus

( runner bean, scarlet runner bean, Dutch runner bean, Case knife bean, seven year bean )

Phaseolus lunatus

( butterbean, lima bean, seiva bean, butterpea )

Phaseolus vulgaris

( common bean, green bean, snap bean, kidney bean, string bean, wax bean )

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