Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Sp. pl. 2: 724 (1753).
Papilionaceae (Leguminosae - Papilionoideae, Fabaceae)
2n = 22
Lima bean, butter bean, Madagascar bean (En). Haricot de Lima, pois du Cap, pois souche, pois savon (Fr). Feijão de Lima, feijão favona, feijão espadinho (Po). Mfiwi (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Lima bean has a Neotropical origin with at least two centres of domestication: Central America (Mexico, Guatemala) for the small-seeded types and South America (mainly Peru) for the large-seeded types. This distinction coincides with a classification into 2 types (Mesoamerican and Andean) on the basis of morphological, ecological, protein and molecular characters. Wild and cultivated forms of the same race are grouped together. The Andean wild populations have a very limited geographic distribution (Ecuador and northern Peru). The Mesoamerican wild types extend from Mexico to Argentina through the east side of the Andes. Recent discoveries have led to the proposition of 3 primary centres of genetic diversity, 2 of which are also domestication centres: a centre of genetic diversity and domestication on the western slope of the Andes in southern Ecuador and northern Peru; a centre of genetic diversity and domestication in Central America; and a centre of genetic diversity in the region covering northern Peru, northern Colombia, northern Ecuador and western Venezuela.
In post-Columbian times, Lima bean spread throughout the Americas. Spaniards took seeds across the Pacific to the Philippines and from there it spread to other parts of Asia, mainly Java and Myanmar (Burma), and to Mauritius. The slave trade introduced Lima bean from Brazil into Africa, particularly to the western and central parts. Some large-seeded types from the Peruvian coast were distributed to south-western Madagascar and southern California. Lima bean is now cultivated throughout tropical Africa and the rest of the tropics, and has frequently become naturalized.
Lima bean is cultivated primarily for its immature and dry seeds, which in tropical Africa are usually eaten boiled, fried in oil or baked. In Nigeria they are also cooked with maize, rice or yam and used in making special kinds of soup and stew. The Yoruba people process the seeds into porridges, puddings and cakes. Immature green seeds, young pods and leaves are eaten as a vegetable, e.g. in Ghana and Malawi. In the United States, fresh and dry Lima beans are processed on an industrial scale involving canning and freezing. Sprouts and young plants are cooked and eaten in many Asian countries.
The seeds are sometimes used as fodder, but may lead to hydrogen cyanide poisoning when used raw. The leaves and stems may be turned into hay or silage. Juice from the leaves is used in nasal instillations against headache and as eardrops against otitis in Senegal and DR Congo. In Nigeria the seeds are powdered and rubbed into small cuts on tumours and abscesses to promote suppuration. In traditional Asian medicine the seeds and leaves are valued for their astringent qualities and used as a diet against fever. Lima bean has been grown as a cover crop and for green manure.
Production and international trade
Production statistics for Lima bean from many tropical regions are fragmentary and often aggregated with other pulses. The United States is the largest producer of Lima bean with about 21,000 ha under cultivation (mainly in California, Delaware, Maryland and Wisconsin) and a production of (primarily fresh) beans of about 70,000 t in 1995. Madagascar is the second largest commercial producer with an area cropped varying from 3000 to 19,000 ha (mainly in the flood plains of the semi-arid coastal region in the south-western part) and a production of dry seed of about 8000 t, almost exclusively of large white-seeded types. Peru comes third with a production of dry seed of 5000–5500 t from 5000–6000 ha. In other countries, Lima beans are grown mostly in gardens or as an intercrop, but there are no estimates of area or production. In Africa the area planted with Lima bean in the sub-humid and humid tropics (especially Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and DR Congo) has been estimated for the 1980s as 120,000–200,000 ha, with a total annual production of 50,000–100,000 t. No trade statistics are available.
The composition of dried raw seeds per 100 g edible portion is: water 11.6 g, energy 1214 kJ (290 kcal), protein 19.1 g, fat 1.7 g, carbohydrate 52.9 g, dietary fibre 19.4 g, Ca 85 mg, Mg 190 mg, P 320 mg, Fe 5.9 mg, Zn 2.8 mg, carotene trace, thiamin 0.45 mg, riboflavin 0.13 mg, niacin 2.5 mg, vitamin B6 0.51 mg and ascorbic acid trace (Holland, Unwin & Buss, 1991). The essential amino-acid composition per 100 g raw Lima beans is: tryptophan 180 mg, lysine 1440 mg, methionine 280 mg, phenylalanine 1160 mg, threonine 800 mg, valine 980 mg, leucine 1560 mg and isoleucine 950 mg (Paul, Southgate & Russell, 1980). As in other pulses, the main limiting amino acids are methionine and cystine. Antimetabolic factors include protease inhibitors, lectins and cyanogenic glucosides (linamarin or phaseolunatin). The latter are accompanied by an enzyme, linamarase, which can hydrolyze the glucosides into a sugar and an aglycone, which in turn is split into acetone and hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Hydrolysis occurs rapidly when the soaked seeds are cooked in water; most of the HCN then evaporates. Linamarin and linamarase are heat-sensitive but inactivated at different temperatures: 140°C for the glucoside and 80°C for the enzyme. If inactivation of the enzymes takes place before complete hydrolysis, the residual glucoside may break down in the human organism under the influence of enzymes secreted by the intestinal microflora, leading to poisoning. The HCN content is significantly higher in wild types (2000–2400 ppm) than in cultivated ones (100–120 ppm). Soaking Lima bean seeds in water overnight easily eliminates the apparent toxicity, which is explained by the release of HCN during the process. In Nigeria, cooking time for dry seeds is 1–1.5 hours. In Malawi, cooking times have been recorded of 2–2.5 hours for dry, unsoaked seeds and 1.5–2 hours for dry, soaked seeds.
Per 100 g edible portion, green pods contain 1.3 g protein, and green leaves 0.6 g. Immature Lima bean seeds contain per 100 g edible portion: water 66.3 g, protein 8.3 g, fat 0.7 g, carbohydrate 23.1 g, fibre 1.0 g, Ca 28 mg, P 111 mg, Fe 2.6 mg, vitamin A 65 IU, thiamin 0.15 mg, riboflavin 0.10 mg, niacin 1.20 mg and ascorbic acid 27.0 mg (Kay, 1979). Lima bean silage contains 27.3% dry matter, 3.3% protein, 2.1% digestible protein and 14.2% digestible nutrients.
Climbing, trailing or more or less bushy annual or perennial herb, with glabrous or pubescent stems up to 4.5(–8) m long; roots thin or swollen, up to 2 m deep. Leaves alternate, 3-foliolate; stipules ovate to lanceolate, 2–4 mm long; petiole 1.5–19 cm long, rachis 0.5–5(–8) cm long; stipels 1–2 mm long; leaflets ovate, 3–19.5 cm × 1–11 cm, acute or acuminate, sparsely pubescent or glabrous. Inflorescence an axillary raceme or panicle up to 15(–40) cm long, with many nodes, few-flowered to many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, papilionaceous; pedicel 5–10 mm long; calyx campanulate, 2.5–3.5 mm long, puberulous, the upper 2 lobes united, the lower 3 broadly triangular; corolla 7–10 mm wide, standard hood-shaped, 5–7 mm × 5–10 mm, white, pale green or rose-violet, wings spatulate to obovate, 7–10 mm long, white or violet, keel sharply upturned, white or pale green; stamens 10, 9 fused and 1 free; ovary superior, c. 3 mm long, minutely hairy, style with a terminal coil, with collar of hairs below the stigma. Fruit an oblong pod (4.5–)5–10.5(–13) cm × 1–2(–3) cm, compressed, generally curved, beaked, glabrous or pubescent, 2–4(–5)-seeded. Seeds kidney-shaped to rhomboid or globose, 8–11 mm × 6–7 mm, white, green, yellow, brown, red, purple, black or variously speckled, often with transverse lines radiating from the hilum. Seedling with epigeal germination; first pair of leaves simple and opposite.
Other botanical information
Phaseolus comprises about 50 species, most of them in the Americas. Wild and cultivated types of Phaseolus lunatus have been distinguished as var. silvester Baudet and var. lunatus, respectively. Within the cultivated types some cultivar groups have been distinguished: Sieva Group with medium-sized flat seeds, Potato Group with small globular seeds, and Big Lima Group with large flat seeds. Wild types from the Andes appear closest to the cultivated types.
In Malawi types of Lima bean are distinguished and named according to the size and shape of the seeds, e.g. ‘mayemba’ (large white or black speckled seeds, slightly bitter, seed coats moderately tough), ‘butter’ or ‘Madagascar’ (large flat white seeds, with a good flavour, seed coats soft and tasteless), ‘moki’ (small, white, flat seeds, good flavour, seed coats moderately tough), and ‘pebugale’ (seed shape variable, colour pale pink, speckled red, slightly bitter with tough seed coats).
Growth and development
Germination of Lima bean seeds occurs 4–10 days after sowing. Vegetative growth accelerates after one month. Flowers appear 35–70 days and ripe pods 80–120 days after sowing with short daylength. Cultivated Lima bean has two distinct growth habits: an indeterminate growth habit (prostrate or climbing; with axillary flowering only) and a pseudo-determinate growth habit (dwarf or bush plants; with terminal and axillary flowering). The vegetative cycle of pseudo-determinate growth types is shorter than that of indeterminate ones. The earliest bush cultivars mature within 90 days whereas the climbing types require 6–9 months. In climbing types, flowering and fruiting may extend throughout the wet season. The growth habit of perennial wild types is always indeterminate.
Pollen and stigma mature synchronously and in close proximity within the unopened bud, favouring self-pollination. However, cross-pollination often occurs too. Pressure on the wings of fully-open flowers by visiting insects forces the stigma and style to protrude through the keel. The exposed stigma remains receptive to pollen for several hours. Bees visit the flowers for both pollen and nectar. Of buds, flowers and young pods, 75–85% are shed under field conditions. Early blooming inflorescences are more productive than later ones, and basal nodes of the inflorescences are potentially more fruitful than terminal ones. Fruit setting proceeds until a ‘capacity set’ is attained; remaining reproductive structures then abscise. Lima bean can fix nitrogen by symbiosis with Bradyrhizobium bacteria.
Lima bean is particularly well suited to low-altitude humid and sub-humid tropical climates, but it can be grown in a wide range of ecological conditions. It is found in warm temperate zones as well as in arid and semi-arid tropical regions. Lima bean is found from sea-level up to altitudes higher than 2000 m. It comprises photoperiod-insensitive types that flower in daylengths up to 18 hours, and short-day types that require a daylength as short as 11–12.5 hours to initiate flowers. Optimum temperatures are 16–27°C; frost is not tolerated. Average rainfall is 900–1500 mm per year, but once established the crop tolerates as little rainfall as 500–600 mm. Some types are considered very drought resistant, due to their deep, well-developed root system. Lima bean prefers well-aerated, well-drained soils with pH 6.0–6.8. However, some cultivars tolerate acid soils with pH as low as 4.4.
Propagation and planting
Propagation of Lima bean is by seed. Seed weight varies between 30 g and 300 g per 100 seeds. Bush types are usually spaced 20–30 cm within rows and 60–100 cm between rows, while climbing types may be planted on hills 90–200 cm apart. Lima bean may be planted in groups of 3–4 plants, separated by at least 1 m. The normal seed rate varies between 55–80 kg/ha for small-seeded cultivars and 130–160 kg/ha for large-seeded types. The planting density in south-western Madagascar is (500–)2100(–4500) pockets per ha, with 3–5 seeds per pocket.
In the more humid tropics, Lima bean is mostly cultivated in home gardens or intercropped with cereals (maize, sorghum), root and tuber crops (yam, cassava) or other crops (e.g. banana, groundnut, sugar cane). Sole cropping is more common in drier areas (Madagascar, Peru). In intercropping, seeds are often placed in the same hill as the companion crop.
Weeding is necessary during initial growth of Lima bean. In Africa it is usually done 1–3 times. In humid areas, climbing types are staked. Unstaked plants tend to have lower yields because of poor foliage display, and lower seed quality because the pods may be resting on the ground. In parts of West Africa, where Lima bean is intercropped with maize or sorghum, the cereals provide support for climbing. Lima bean may also be planted after yam, with the stake of the previous yam crop providing support. In drier conditions (Madagascar, California and Peru), Lima bean may be left prostrate and irrigated 2–4 times before maturity. In the south-western part of Madagascar Lima bean is planted on alluvial soils in mounds or ridges as the flood waters from a nearby river recede, or is irrigated from a river. Fertilizer is not usually applied in tropical areas. If fertilizer is applied, this is often done at planting, in bands below and adjacent to the seeds. Supplemental nitrogen and phosphorus may be side-dressed at the early bud stage and during fruit development. Lima bean may be planted after a well-fertilized crop, thus benefiting from residual fertilizer, especially phosphorus.
Diseases and pests
In the tropics the most serious diseases of Lima bean are web blight caused by Rhizoctonia solani, Fusarium root rot caused by Fusarium solani, anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum spp., downy mildew caused by Phytophthora phaseoli, bacterial blight due to Xanthomonas campestris pv. phaseoli and two viral diseases: Lima bean golden mosaic virus (LGMV) transmitted by white flies (Bemisia sp.) and Lima bean green mottle virus (LBGrMV) transmitted by aphids. The use of fungicides is recommended to control the fungal diseases. For bacterial blight the use of disease-free seed and crop rotation are the recommended control measures.
Root-knot nematodes (mainly Meloidogyne incognita) can cause considerable yield reduction. Crop rotation with cereals can reduce the nematode population in the soil. Mexican bean beetle (Epilachna varivestis), aphids (mainly Aphis craccivora), leafhopper (Empoasca dolichi), flower thrips (Megalurothrips sjostedti), legume pod borers (Maruca vitrata, Cydia sp. and Etiella sp.), and bruchids (Callosobruchus, Acanthoscelides and Zabrotes spp.) are serious pests. Chemical control measures (e.g. with endosulfan) have been recommended to control them.
Green and mature pods of the climbing Lima bean types are usually picked manually over an extended period (4–6 weeks). In drier areas (Madagascar), whole plants are cut and left to dry in the field before the pods are removed and the stems are fed to livestock. Mechanical picking is possible with erect cultivars maturing uniformly and setting pods well above the soil surface.
In the tropics, yields of dry seeds of Lima bean are 200–600 kg/ha in intercropping and 1000–1500 kg/ha in sole cropping. Yields in south-western Madagascar are (50–)400(–950) kg/ha. In experiments dry-seed yields in pure stands have reached 2000–2500 kg/ha for the bush types and 3000–4000 kg/ha for the climbing types. In Madagascar yields of 15 t green matter per ha have been obtained for use as fodder.
Handling after harvest
Pods of Lima bean are usually threshed by hand, and seed is cleaned and sorted. Care should be taken with threshing, as the seeds are brittle and easily damaged. In many tropical countries, seeds are sometimes stored in jars or baskets, and covered with a layer of sand or ash to protect them against bruchid infestation.
There is a real risk of loss of genetic diversity of Lima bean in primary centres of diversity (Latin America) as well as in secondary centres of cultivated types (Africa and part of Asia). Over 2600 seed samples of Lima bean are available in the CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical) collection at Cali (Colombia) with seeds coming mainly from South and Central America, West Africa (mainly Ghana and Nigeria), East and Central Africa, Madagascar, India, the Philippines and Myanmar. The wild and weedy types represent 3–5% of the total collection. Among the cultivated types, Sieva Group and Potato Group predominate, while accessions of the Big Lima Group come mostly from a few limited areas, such as the South American Andean region or the desert coast of Peru. According to IPGRI other large Lima bean collections exist in Indonesia (Research and Development Centre for Biology (RDCB), Bogor, 3850 accessions), the United States (Regional Plant Introduction Station, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, 1060 accessions), Brazil (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA), Brasilia, 980 accessions), the Philippines (National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), College, Laguna, 780 accessions) and Costa Rica (Escuela de Biología, Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR), San Pedro de Montes de Oca, 400 accessions). In tropical Africa small Lima bean collections are present in Ghana (Plant Genetic Resources Centre, Crops Research Institute, Bunso, 40 accessions; University of Ghana, Accra, 8 accessions), Togo (Institut de Recherches Agronomiques Tropicales et des Cultures Vivrières, Lomé, 36 accessions; Direction de la Recherche Agronomique (DRA), Lomé, 17 accessions), Guinea (Programme de conservation des ressources phytogénétiques, Institut de Recherche, Conakry, 34 accessions), Senegal (Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), Dakar, 23 accessions), Nigeria (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, 15 accessions), Kenya (National Genebank of Kenya, Crop Plant Genetic Resources Centre, KARI, Kikuyu, 12 accessions) and Ethiopia (International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Addis Ababa, 2 accessions). The National Botanic Garden of Belgium at Meise has been mandated by IPGRI as a base repository collection of wild Phaseolus, which includes wild accessions of Phaseolus lunatus and related species.
Evaluation and breeding based on international collections were carried out at IITA (Ibadan, Nigeria) between 1973 and 1980, and later at CIAT (Cali, Colombia) between 1980 and 1992, the general objectives being to increase dry seed yield, upgrade resistance to pests and diseases and improve nutritional seed quality. Small-scale improvement programmes of Lima bean using local collections are being conducted in Ghana, Nigeria, DR Congo, Zambia and Madagascar. The adopted breeding methods are pure-line selection, bulk and population improvement; the target cropping systems include both sole cropping and intercropping systems. Erectness, resistance to lodging and to web blight are prime criteria to improve pseudo-determinate bush types. Earliness, photoperiod insensitivity, resistance to Lima bean golden mosaic virus and suitability for intercropping are being sought in climbing types. Some promising types in the humid tropics have been identified among the climbing forms. A large secondary genepool is available for improvement and the following wild species have been successfully crossed with Lima bean: Phaseolus jaliscanus Piper, Phaseolus maculatus Scheele, Phaseolus polystachyus (L.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb. and Phaseolus salicifolius Piper. Introgression of useful genes of the wild taxa (e.g. resistance to Lima bean golden mosaic virus) has been observed in interspecific breeding material. Many commercial Lima bean cultivars have been developed in the United States.
Because of its high yield potential, deep rooting and drought tolerance, Lima bean has good prospects in tropical Africa. Preliminary investigations have shown the great potential and the large genetic diversity of Phaseolus lunatus germplasm. Some progress in crop improvement has been made, mainly in areas outside the region of origin (for example in temperate climates of the United States). Much remains to be done in many regions of the tropics, particularly to develop more stable and higher-yielding cultivars for the humid, sub-humid and semi-arid tropics. Breeding efforts should consider separately the two major growth habits. The climbing indeterminate types usually give high but unstable dry-seed yield and require an expensive system of staking. In tropical regions, these types are mainly grown in intercropping systems with cereals or root and tuber crops. So far, few genotypes suitable for intercropping have been bred, which explains the poor performance of climbing Lima bean in such systems in spite of their high potential. The bushy pseudo-determinate types are more appropriate for sole cropping and intensive production systems. However, results are discouraging, particularly in humid tropics, due to unfavourable plant architecture (profuse branching, pods within the leaf canopy and severe lodging) and high susceptibility to diseases. The key factor to success would be to develop indeterminate bushy types with several traits of wide adaptation (such as deep rooting, drought tolerance, disease resistance and high yield potential). Research priorities should first be devoted to full exploitation of the large genetic variation available in the primary genepool of Mesoamerican and Andean origin. Exploitation of the alien genepools and selection in the interspecific populations should not be neglected when considering the challenge of high and stable yields in the humid tropics.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article:
Baudoin, J.P., 2006. Phaseolus lunatus L. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, flowering and fruiting branches; 2, flower; 3, seeds.
leaves and flowers
dry seeds on the market