Saturday, August 11, 2007

Yard long beans and ants

I've loved growing yard long beans (Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis) for the last few years; they're so unusual-looking, productive, and tasty, with the added bonus of beautiful flowers and attractive foliage. I first noticed yard long beans in Asian markets, marveling at their size and the flexibility of the pods. They're incredibly heat-tolerant, being native to Africa, and are easy to grow. (They were first domesticated somewhere in North Africa, and then spread throughout Africa, India, and Asia. In the process, cowpeas and yard long beans were selected for their different characteristics.) Interestingly, an older gardener in Belton told me that her mother grew yard long beans here in SC, perhaps the field pea relative that's also viney. Cowpeas are documented to have been brought from Africa by slaves. Yard long beans (also commonly called asparagus beans) can be snipped up and cooked like green beans, and have a lovely taste. Another nice aspect is their beautiful flowers, which have extrafloral nectaries visited actively by ants.

2 comments:

  1. Hi there! This is my first time growing yard longs. They've just begun to blossom and there are ants on every flower. Do they hurt the plant at all?

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  2. Hi, Lauren-
    Actually, the ants help protect the plants from other insects. The nectaries attract the ants, which are predatory on them. Pretty cool! I had a grad school friend who studied them in a different plant-ant system many years ago. Hope you enjoy your beans. They're still one of my favorites to grow.

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