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Phaseolus lunatus is known for its edibles seeds which are enjoyed by millions of people throughout the world. Also known as butter bean on account of its creamy taste, lima bean adds flavour, protein and important minerals such as manganese and iron, to a wide variety of dishes. It is also highly valued for its medicinal properties.

[FWTA]

Papilionaceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:2. 1958

Morphology General Habit
A rank-growing twiner, biennial, with half-woody stems
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Rather small greenish-white or bluish flowers.
Vernacular
The Lima bean.

[FZ]

Leguminosae, B. Mackinder, R. Pasquet, R. Polhill and B. Verdcourt. Flora Zambesiaca 3:5. 2001

Morphology General Habit
Perennial or biennial climber, sometimes subshrubby, 1–4.5 m long.
Morphology Stem
Stems glabrous or pubescent.
Morphology Leaves Leaflets
Leaflets 3, 3–15 × 1.2–10 cm, the laterals oblique, ovate to lanceolate or narrowly rhombic, acute or acuminate, ± rounded at the base, sparsely pubescent or glabrous; petiole 1.5–19 cm long; rhachis 0.7–5 cm long; petiolules 3–5 mm long; stipules 2–3.5 mm long, ovate-lanceolate, persistent.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescences lax, few–several-flowered; rhachis 1–7 cm long; peduncle 1.5–30 cm long; pedicels 5–10 mm long; bracts persistent, 1.5 mm long, lanceolate; bracteoles persistent, 1.5–2 × 0.5–1 mm, elliptic or ovate, (1)3–7-nerved.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx puberulous; tube 1.5–2.5 mm long; lobes 5–8 mm long, broadly triangular, the upper pair joined to form an emarginate lip.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Standard white, yellowish-buff or pale rose, 5–7 × 5–8.5 mm, rounded or oblate-oblong, emarginate, sparsely pubescent or glabrous outside; keel 1–1.4 cm long, spirally incurved for 11/2 turns.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pods (4.5)5–10.5(13) × 1.2–2.2(2.5) cm, oblong-falcate or oblong-oblanceolate, 3–4-seeded, compressed, apiculate at the apex, glabrous or pubescent.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds very variable in colour, mostly white or purple, 10–15 × 8–12 × 5–5.5 mm, reniform or rhomboid-reniform, compressed; hilum whitish, 2.5–4 mm long

[FTEA]

Leguminosae, J. B. Gillett, R. M. Polhill & B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

Morphology General Habit
Perennial or biennial climber or sometimes subshrubby, 1–4·5 m. long.
Morphology Stem
Stems glabrous or pubescent.
Morphology Leaves
Leaflets 3, the laterals oblique, ovate to lanceolate or narrowly rhombic, 3–15 cm. long, 1·2–10 cm. wide, acute or acuminate, ± rounded at the base, sparsely pubescent or glabrous; petiole 1·5–19 cm. long; rhachis 0·7–5 cm. long; petiolules 3–5 mm. long; stipules ovate-lanceolate, persistent, 2–3·5 mm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescences lax, few–several-flowered; rhachis 1–7 cm. long; peduncle 1·5–30 cm. long; pedicels 5–10 mm. long; bracts persistent, lanceolate, 1·5 mm. long; bracteoles persistent, elliptic or ovate, 1·5–2 mm. long, 0·5–1 mm. wide, (1–)3–7-nerved.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx puberulous; tube 1·5–2·5 mm. long; lobes broadly triangular, 5–8 mm. long, the upper pair joined to form an emarginate lip.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Standard white, yellowish-buff or pale rose, rounded or oblate-oblong, 5–7 mm. long, 5–8·5 mm. wide, emarginate, sparsely pubescent or glabrous outside; keel 1–1·4 cm. long, spirally incurved for 11/2 turns.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Pods oblong-falcate or oblong-oblanceolate, 3–4-seeded, (4·5–)5–10·5(–13) cm. long, 1·2–2·2(–2·5) cm. wide, compressed, apiculate at the apex, glabrous or pubescent.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seeds very variable in colour, mostly white or purple, reniform or rhomboid-reniform, compressed, longest dimension 1–1·5 cm., shorter dimension 0·8–1·2 cm., 5–5·5 mm. thick; hilum whitish, 2·5–4 mm. long.
Figures
Fig. 95, p. 616.
Habitat
Grassland, thicket; 0–2250 m.
Distribution
K7 T1 T2 T3 T4 T6 T7 U1 U2 U4 a native of tropical America now widely cultivated throughout tropical Africa and the rest of the tropicsnow also frequently naturalized and found in quite wild habitats

[ILDIS]

International Legume Database and Information Service

Conservation
Not Threatened
Ecology
Africa: Cultivated, Zambezian bushland and thicket, Sudanian bushland and thicket, Somalia-Masai bushland and thicket, Lake Victoria regional mosaic; bushland and thicket
Morphology General Habit
Annual/Perennial, Climbing/Not climbing, Herb/Shrub
Vernacular
Bakla, Bonchi, Bonchi-kai, Broad Bean, Butter Bean, Butter Beans, Caraota De Ano, Carolina Bean, Civet Bean, Common Bean, Common Haricot, Dambala, Dara-dambala, Dwarf Bean, Frash Bean, French Bean, Frijol, Frijol De Lima, Frijol De Media Luna, Frijol De M

[CPLC]

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Distribution
Nativa en Colombia; Alt. 150 - 1875 m.; Amazonia, Andes, Valle del Magdalena.
Morphology General Habit
Trepadora
Conservation
No Evaluada

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

Phaseolus lunatus is known for its edibles seeds which are enjoyed by millions of people throughout the world. Also known as butter bean on account of its creamy taste, lima bean adds flavour, protein and important minerals such as manganese and iron, to a wide variety of dishes. It is also highly valued for its medicinal properties.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Lima bean originated in the Neotropics and has two main centres of domestication. The small-seeded varieties were developed in Central America and the large-seeded types were cultivated in South America (mainly in Peru) as far back as 6,000 BC.

Following Columbus' 'discovery' of America, humans spread lima bean throughout the continent and it was subsequently introduced into Europe and Asia. Portuguese 'explorers' brought butter beans to Africa during the slave trade. Today lima bean is cultivated throughout the tropics.

Description

Overview: Phaseolus lunatus can either be an annual (completing its life-cycle in one year) or a  perennial (living for several years) herb. Some forms of the species are erect with trailing branches while others are climbing vines up to four and half metres long ( occasionally up to 8 metres). 

Roots: The roots can extend 2 metres into the soil and are either thin or swollen. 

Leaves: The leaves are arranged alternately along the main stems and each leaf is composed of three leaflets, with the terminal leaflet held away from the two opposite lateral leaflets (the whole leaf being referred to as pinnately trifoliolate). The petiole (leaf stalk) can be from 1.5 to 19 cm long. 

Flowers: The stalked flowers are clustered on small fleshy nodes along an unbranched axis (this a pseudoracemose inflorescence); the inflorescences are axillary (arising in the axilof the stem and the leaf petiole). The inflorescences are sometimes panicles, in which the main axis has several lateral branches. The flowers are white, pale green or rose-violet and papilionaceous (pea-flowered). Each flower has 10 stamens (male reproductive organs) 9 of which are fused into a partial tube or sheath and 1 free. The ovary (female reproductive organ) is about 3 mm long, and has a covering of minute hairs. The style has a terminal coil with a collar of hairs below the stigma (the female receptive organ where pollen is deposited by a visiting pollinator). 

Fruit : The fruit is an oblong pod, 5-13 cm long and bears up to 5 seeds. The seeds are kidney-shaped to subglobose (almost spherical), up to 11 mm long, white, green, yellow, brown, red, purple, black or variously speckled. 

Uses Food

In Africa, lima bean is grown mainly for its immature and dry seeds which are eaten boiled, fried or baked. In Nigeria, the seeds are commonly used in soups and stews, cooked together with maize, rice or yams. Some indigenous peoples, such as the Yoruba, process the seeds into porridge, puddings and cakes. The green, immature seeds, pods and leaves are eaten as a vegetable in Ghana and Malawi. Lima beans are cultivated on an industrial scale in the United States for canning and freezing. In many Asian countries the shoots and young plants are cooked and eaten. The leaves and stems of butter bean may be turned into hay or silage.

Medicinal

The plant has many medicinal uses. In Senegal and the Democratic republic of Congo the juice from the leaves is used in nasal instillations against headache and as eardrops. In Nigeria the seeds are pulverised and rubbed into small cuts or onto tumours and abscesses to encourage the discharge of pus. The seeds and leaves of butter bean are valued in traditional Asian medicine for their astringent properties and they are used as a diet to relieve fever.

Other uses

The seeds of lima bean are sometimes used to feed livestock, but there is a risk of hydrogen cyanide poisoning if used raw. The ability of lima bean to fix nitrogen from the air by way of bacteria housed in root nodules makes it a good soil fertiliser. For this reason it is often grown as a  cover crop and for green manure.

Crop wild relatives of lima bean

The Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are engaged in a ten-year project, called 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change'. The project aims to protect, collect and prepare the wild relatives of 29 key food crops, including lima bean, so that they are available to pre-breeders for the development of new varieties that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The  Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plants worldwide, focusing on those plants which are under threat and those which are of most use in the future. Once seeds have been collected they are dried, packaged and stored at -20°C in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank vault.

Description of seeds:  Average weight of 1,000 seeds = 571.0 g

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank:  One

Seed storage behaviour:  Orthodox (the seeds of this plant can be dried to a low moisture content without significantly reducing their viability. This means they are suitable for long-term frozen storage)

Germination testing:  Successful

This species at Kew

Pressed and dried specimens of Phaseolus lunatus  are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details and images of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

Distribution
Peru
Ecology
Lima bean can be grown in a wide range of ecological conditions but is particularly suited to low-altitude humid and sub-humid climates,as well as warm temperate zones and arid and semi-arid tropical regions.
Conservation
Widespread in cultivation.
Hazards

Lima beans contain high levels of a cyanide compound and should not be eaten raw. The toxic cyanide compound is deactivated upon cooking.

[UPB]

The Useful Plants of Boyacá project

Morphology General Habit
Climbing plant.
Ecology
Alt. 150 - 1875 m.
Distribution
Native from Colombia.

[ILDIS]
Use
Environmental, Food and Drink, Forage, Medicine, Toxins

[KSP]
Use
Food, fodder, medicine, cover crop.

[UPB]
Use Food
Seeds - edible (Pradilla et al. 2013).
Use Gene Sources
Crop wild relatives which may possess beneficial traits of value in breeding programmes (State of the World's Plants 2016).
Use Medicines Unspecified Medicinal Disorders
Medicinal (Instituto Humboldt 2014).

Native to:

Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexican Pacific Is., Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Nicaragua, Panamá

Introduced into:

Andaman Is., Angola, Argentina Northeast, Argentina Northwest, Assam, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Benin, Bismarck Archipelago, Bolivia, Brazil Northeast, Brazil South, Brazil Southeast, Brazil West-Central, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Caroline Is., Central African Repu, China North-Central, China Southeast, Christmas I., Comoros, Cuba, Dominican Republic, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Fiji, French Guiana, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Guyana, Hainan, Haiti, India, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Jawa, Kazan-retto, Kenya, Kermadec Is., Leeward Is., Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaya, Maldives, Mali, Marianas, Marshall Is., Mauritius, Nepal, New Caledonia, New Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Ogasawara-shoto, Pakistan, Peru, Puerto Rico, Queensland, Rodrigues, Rwanda, Réunion, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Southwest Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad-Tobago, Uganda, Venezuela, Venezuelan Antilles, Vietnam, West Himalaya, Windward Is., Zambia, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

English
Lima bean
Spanish
Fríjol, fríjol palomita, judía de lima, pallar, haba lima, fríjol de luna, fríjol zaragoza.

Phaseolus lunatus L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
May 1, 2012 I Made Maduarta (Pung) [IMM 170], Lesser Sunda Is. K000733729
Jan 1, 2007 Rovirosa, J.N. [422], Oaxaca K000478457
Hinton, G.B. [5383], Mexico K000118660
Hinton, G.B. [3100], Mexico K000118661
Hinton, G.B. [5439], Mexico K000118663
Hinton, G.B. [3121], Mexico K000118664
Smith, H.H. [2053], Colombia K000502930
Smith, H.H. [692], Colombia K000502931
Fendler, A. [260], Venezuela K000502932
McFadyen [s.n.], Jamaica K000502936
González Ortega, J. [5429], Mexico K001041085
Burchell [3444], Brazil K000931234
Gaumer, G. [564], Mexico K001041081
Spruce, R. [s.n.], Para K000502934
s.coll. [260], Venezuela K000502933
Hayes [549], Panama K001041099
Langlassé, E. [204], Mexico K001041084
Hinton, G.B. [11742], Mexico K000118659
Legname, P.R. [7021C], Argentina K000931235
Gaumer, G. [564], Mexico K001041093
s.coll. [970], Brazil K000931236
Hinton, G.B. [11771], Mexico K000118657
Seeman [s.n.], Panama K001041097
Gaumer, G.F. [s.n.], Mexico K001306470
Gaumer, G. [564], Mexico K001041080
Hinton, G.B. [11742], Mexico K000118658
Gaumer, G. [564], Mexico K001041079
Sinclair [s.n.], Mexico K001041096
Langlassé, E. [958], Mexico K001041078
Usteri [54=211], Brazil K000931237
Hinton, G.B. [5439], Mexico K000118662
McFadyen [s.n.], Jamaica K000502935
Coulter [s.n.], Mexico K001041098

First published in Sp. Pl.: 724 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006). Flore Analytique du Bénin: 1-1034. Backhuys Publishers.
  • Baksh-Comeau, Y., Maharaj, S.S., Adams, C.D., Harris, S.A., Filer, D.L. & Hawthorne, W.D. (2016). An annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Trinidad and Tobago with analysis of vegetation types and botanical 'hotspots' Phytotaxa 250: 1-431.
  • Balick, M.J., Nee, M.H. & Atha, D.E. (2000). Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Belize with Common Names an Uses: 1-246. New Yourk Botanic Garden Press, New York.
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  • Boggan, J. Funck, V. & Kelloff, C. (1997). Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas (Guyana, Surinam, Franch Guiana) ed. 2: 1-238. University of Guyana, Georgetown.
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  • Du Puy, D.J., Labat, N.-N., Rabevohitra, R., Villiers, J.-F., Bosser, J. & Moat, J. (2002). The Leguminosae of Madagascar: 1-737. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
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Literature

Kew Species Profiles

  • Beentje, H. (2010). The Kew Plant Glossary: an Illustrated Dictionary of Plant Terms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Brink, M. & Belay, G. (2006). Cereals and Pulses: Volume 1 of Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. PROTA.
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Useful Plants of Boyacá Project

  • Crop wild relative Inventory https://www.cwrdiversity.org/checklist/ in The State of the World’s Plants Report–2016. (2016). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew https://stateoftheworldsplants.org/2016/
  • Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humbodlt (2014). Plantas alimenticias y medicinales nativas de Colombia. 2567 registros, aportados por: Castellanos, C. (Contacto del recurso), Valderrama, N. (Creador del recurso, Autor), Castro, C. (Proveedor de metadatos), Bernal, Y. (Autor), García, N. (Autor). Versión 11.0. http://i2d.humboldt.org.co/ceiba/resource.do?r=ls_colombia_magnoliophyta_2014
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Flora of West Tropical Africa

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  • —F.T.A. 2: 192

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006). Flore Analytique du Bénin: 1-1034. Backhuys Publishers.
  • Baksh-Comeau, Y., Maharaj, S.S., Adams, C.D., Harris, S.A., Filer, D.L. & Hawthorne, W.D. (2016). An annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Trinidad and Tobago with analysis of vegetation types and botanical 'hotspots' Phytotaxa 250: 1-431.
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  • Barthelat, F. (2019). La flore illustrée de Mayotte: 1-687. Biotope éditions.
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