In general, beans are warm-season annuals (although the roots of tropical species tend to be perennial) that grow erect (bush types) or as vines (pole or running types). Field beans are mostly the bush type and are used as stock feed. This has also become the principal use of the ancient large-seeded broad bean (called also the horse or Windsor bean), still widely grown in Europe but seldom as food for humans.
The common garden beans comprise several bush types and most of the pole types; the most often cultivated and most varied species, P. vulgata, is familiar as both types. P. vulgata is the French haricot and the Spanish frijole. String beans, snap beans, green and yellow wax beans, and some kidney beans are eaten as whole pods; several kidney beans, pinto beans, pea beans, and many other types are sold as mature dry seeds. The lima or butter beans ( P. lunatus, including the former P. limensis ), usually pole but sometimes bush types, have a long history; they have been found in prehistoric Peruvian graves. The sieva is a type of lima. The scarlet runner ( P. multiflorus ), grown in Europe for food, is mainly an ornamental vine in North America. The tepary ( P. acutifolius latifolius ), a small variety long grown by Indians in the SW United States, has been found better suited to hot, arid climates and is more prolific than the frijole.
Other beans are the hyacinth bean or lablab ( Dolichos lablab ), grown in E Asia and the tropics for forage and food and cultivated in North America as an ornamental vine; the asparagus bean or yard-long bean ( Vigna sesquipedalis ), grown in E Asia for food but often cultivated in the West as a curiosity; and the velvet bean ( Stizolobium ), cultivated in the S United States as a forage and cover crop. The carob, the cowpea or black-eyed pea, and the chickpea or garbanzo are among the many other legumes sometimes considered beans. The sacred bean of India is the seed of the Indian lotus (of the water lily family).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.