Russell Studebaker: Hyacinth bean makes beautiful, showy vine
BY RUSSELL STUDEBAKER In Our Gardens
Saturday, September 29, 2012
9/29/12 at 8:29 AM
I can remember my first encounter with hyacinth bean; it was on a fall conference garden tour in San Antonio, Texas, in the '80s.
I thought I had never seen such a beautiful vine other than morning glories in all my experiences.
Hyacinth beans, Lablab purpureus (synonym Dolichos lablab) is definitely a plant that should be cultivated by younger gardeners.
It grows rapidly and tall, up to heights from 10 to 20 feet in one summer's growing season. They are fast growing, something like the folktale Jack and the Beanstalk. And to keep youngsters' interest in gardening, it helps when plants do things fast, showy and big.
This annual bean plant also has seeds that are black with a white hypocotyl between the two black halves of the seed. It makes the seed look like a small Oreo cookie. And what kid doesn't like Oreos?
In midsummer, slightly scented purple flowers stand out and above the foliage on long sprays.
They always attract hummingbirds as long as the birds are here.
The purple blooms are many and prolific and will flower until cool weather, but the real color impact comes from the velvety wine-purple 2 1/2-inch pods.
These colorful pods last for many weeks, much longer than the individual flowers. The pods are showy until autumn, when they ripen and turn brown.
It is thought that these beans are from Asia. The pods are edible when fresh (after soaking) and a common food in the tropics, particularly in India.
Most American youngsters are not too fond of fresh-cooked pod beans regardless if they're green or purple. Unfortunately, the beans lose their beautiful color when cooked.
Hyacinth beans are climbing beans and must have a trellis or strong upright support to twine and hold their weight. As a result, they make a good fast and reliable vine for shade or privacy in the summer when grown in a sunny site on an arbor, trellis, fence or on shrubs. All they need is full sun and a well-drained soil.
Plant these beans in the spring about the same time you plant tomato plants in the garden.
There are usually no major pests on these plants. Generally, I have a few beans that come up from their self-sowing, and when these are small, a careful gardener should be able to transplant them successfully.
Two cultivars exist: Albus, with white flowers, and Ruby Moon, a bicolor with pink and purple flowers. Most garden seed racks in nurseries and garden centers have the purple hyacinth bean seed in the spring. However, if you cannot find them, a good mail-order source is Park Seeds, Greenwood, S.C.; 800-845-3369; www.parkseeds.com
Original Print Headline: Fast-growing hyacinth bean wows youngsters
Russell Studebaker is a professional horticulturist and garden writer in Tulsa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The annual hyacinth bean vine bears purple flowers and large wine-purple pods in the summer. RUSSELL STUDEBAKER / Courtesy