Most commonly cultivated beans (Phaseolus) have an American heritage. The origin of the plant lies somewhere near Guatemala but migration throughout North and South America had occurred before Europeans arrived. In fact, beans were almost as universally cultivated as maize by the native people.
We offer many different varieties of beans. They can be divided by both their growth habit (how they grow) and by how they are used. The descriptions of the major categories of beans are provided below.
Growth habits are generally divided as either pole / climbing (indeterminate) or bush (determinate). When you are reading the descriptions of bush beans, pay attention to words like compact, erect, etc. These tend to be more modern varieties that were developed to set all of the pods uniformly, on plants that do not sprawl, so that they can easily be machine harvested. Many older varieties of bush beans will send out half-runners that can be up to 24 to 30 inches and tend to sprawl.
The term "string bean" refers to the lignified vascular bundle that develops in certain cultivars of pole beans. Plant breeders in the 1950s began developing bush-type (determinate) beans with vascular bundles that did not become stringy until the beans were very mature. These beans are called "snap beans" to differentiate from string beans.
Most commercial green bean cultivars grown today are snap beans. This is mainly because they are mechanically harvested. Pole beans and half runner beans are still popular with home gardeners because people like the stronger bean flavor. Pole beans also mature throughout the season and therefore yield a larger overall harvest in the same amount of garden space as bush-type beans.
The major categories of beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are:
Field, dry, or agronomic beans:
• The pod walls are thin, fibrous, tough, inedible, dehisce more readily. • The dried seeds retain shape when cooked.
Green, snap, string, or French beans:
• The pod walls are fleshy, edible, have little fiber, dehisce poorly. • The dried seeds do not retain shape when cooked.
Dual purpose or horticultural beans:
• The pods are fairly fleshy and generally edible. • The dried seeds may be cooked and typically retain shape fairly well.
"Butterbeans" (Phaseolus lunatus) is a term used for certain small, flat seeded lima beans. There is no separate botanical classification for a butterbean. It is basically a description of the way that they are prepared for cooking. Whereas most limas are grown to the dry stage, butterbeans are shelled fresh while in the late green stage, cooked and buttered.
Fava beans (Vicia faba) are not from the same family as other beans. Their origin is reportedly the Mediterranean region and their history dates back to at least Biblical times. Favas are commonly known to Middle Eastern, Greek and Italian cooking.
Hyacinth Beans (Dolichos Lablab) - Grown as an ornamental.
Castor Beans (Ricinis communis) - Grown as an ornamental - highly toxic.