Plant Name: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Plant Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Scientific Name: Phaseolus lunatus
Beans are in the family Fabaceae (Leguminosae). Man has cultivated edible beans for thousands of years. They are widely planted and useful for home gardens. Early varieties were tough and required string removal and long cooking to soften them. Before the late 19th century, most beans were raised for shelled, dried beans, not fresh green beans.
For some time, the lima bean was believed to originate in Brazil, but new evidence points to Guatemala. Wild primitive lima beans and diverse cultivated forms have been found there.
As Native Americans migrated, they took their bean varieties with them. Remains show that they took them through Mexico into the American Southwest, then eastward to spread from Florida to Virginia. Various types of lima beans were grown by different tribes. They ranged from the present small types used by the Hopi Indians in the Southwest to the Sieva type found in the East.
From Guatemala, they were also carried through Central America into Peru, where they developed large-seeded, large-podded types in the warm coastal areas. The name, lima bean, came from Lima, Peru. Early European explorers discovered the bean there. Seeds have been discovered in Peruvian tombs.
The originals were also carried eastward through the West Indies then southto the mainland of South America. Although the beans came from the same parentage, the beans that developed in this area will develop cyanide under certain conditions, unlike the other limas. Fortunately, the Carribean Lima beans are small and round and do not look much like Lima Beans at all.
Although most of the lima beans commonly grown in the United States are green, there is a wide diversity of colors, shapes and sizes.
When the white man arrived in the Americas, they discovered that the native tribes grew them almost as universally as maize and provided an important supplement to their diets. While maize has a high starch content, it is low in proteins - Lima Beans are high in proteins. Between the two, they supplied most of the proteins required for good health among Central American Indian tribes that ate little, or no meat.
Because beans dry so well, they are easy to transport and store. Merchants, explorers, and slavers, favored them and began stocking them as ships' provisions in the early days of American exploration. They carried them to the far corners of the earth.
Of course they took them to Europe where they originated and the first record of them there is in 1591. They were not as important as common snap beans in Europe because they require warm weather to grow well. By the late 1700s lima beans were written about in records all over the world.
The original lima beans grew on vines but after 1875, a dwarf mutant bush variety became popular as someone realized its potential use.