The different patterns of legume seeds

fliptx(Houston 9)June 6, 2008

As I was sifting through my newly collected Jumbo bean seeds, I was wondering how different seed patterns came about.

Did they start out rather plain? Did humans select certain mutations for beauty over the centuries and create a diversity of jewel-like patterns and colors? Or is there some evolutionary advantage in the patterns, prompting different patterns to naturally proliferate in different areas? Like, maybe certain stripes or splotches help to camouflage the seeds from hungry birds?

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you must be my bean soul mate - musing over bean seeds? Oh, how often have I indulged in this. Especially just after harvesting when the seed patterns are still very vivid and at their most colourful. I am glad, somebody else understands ...

How the patterns came about and whether they started off plain is a very good question. Genetic analysis might (eventually) provide some answers here -help sort beans into family groups, into earlier and later appearing types and perhaps into geographic centres of origin.

Interspecies crossing (ordinary beans x runnerbeans) and perhaps other crosses, must have played a part in creating the patterns we see today.

There is evidence that beans have been used in art and jewellery - it stands to reason that the tricolour and multipatterned seeds were prized more highly than plain coloured seeds.

Is it possible to look at a seed and predict what sort of bean it will produce? What colour pods? There seem to be some rules and many exceptions. Many yellow-podded beans for example are plain large brown-seeded, but they could be black too or olive green or white, even white and purple flecked. Some seed patterns are repeated on the pods and even on the cotyledons, others are not.

And what do the various shapes signify? Kidney shape, round, elongated round or looking like an oversized rice grain. And many different sizes too. What does this tell us?

It would be wonderful to learn some of the answers and perhaps one day we will.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2008 at 8:22PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Galina, I agree with you; there may be a relationship between seed shape & color, and other characteristics. They may be a "bar code" we have yet to learn.

For soybeans, there have been some genetic links made between certain traits, and seed coat color; the USDA documents this (complete with the relevant alleles) for some of the varieties in their collection. It seems entirely reasonable that the same could be true of other legumes.

A personal note regarding geographic origin... I have acquired several beans in the last few years from the region of the former Yugoslavia. While the colors are different, the spotted half-and-half pattern (like Yin Yang, but with more spots) seems to be common. Coincidence? Or common ancestry?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 4:55PM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

Do you ever find yourself picking the pretty beans out of the bunch and planting them first? Its a safe bet that our ancestors did the same thing,so evolutionarily the pretty beans had an advantage (artificial selection is still evolution). It could be partially due to extreme bottle necking in some situations where settlers moved, but I doubt it. IT also seems to me that the beans from more "advanced" cultures like european cultures are less attractive than those coming from native american and african roots.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 6:27PM
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I have made the same observation that the most highly developed beans often have plain seeds and that landrace type beans often have the best looking seed coats (and there are plenty in Europe too). I don't think I have ever come across African beans. Do you have a photo or could you describe the types you have?

I am convinced the processing industries also 'prejudice' in favour of plain white seeds to keep the juices clear and attractive looking in glass jars. Muddy brown or grey may put customers off.


interesting research about the 'barcode' of Lima beans relating to plant characteristics. Thank you for telling us.

I have 4 beans from Slovenia and Bosnia (both formerly part of Yugoslavia) and they are plain olive, plain black and Pinto striped. Maybe your beans are more common in other ethnic communities in former YU. The type you describe exists in other European countries too. A possible common ancestor may not be local to former YU but ended up there when the 'new world' vegetable seeds spread like wildfire throughout Europe, quite possibly in tiny samples, but were later kept relatively separate within communities. If only we could reconstruct the history of the journeys bean seeds must have made.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 5:06AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"If only we could reconstruct the history of the journeys bean seeds must have made."

How interesting that would be. We often talk of bean varieties as originating in one country or continent; European, African, Yugoslavian, etc... but all Phaseolus beans are from the New World originally. What an interesting journey many of them must have taken over the centuries, brought to other continents by seafaring ships, then spread further by commerce or migration. It is remarkable that they evolved so much in that relatively short time.

I'm afraid that I don't know of any African beans, although they certainly may have been taken there by European settlers. Africa gave the world peanuts & cowpeas.

"I am convinced the processing industries also 'prejudice' in favour of plain white seeds..."

Sad, but true. Just as soybeans meant for commerce must be yellow, and chickens white-feathered. And the trend that all vegetables must be "sweet", rather than exhibiting the distinctive flavors Nature gave them. Am I weird for wanting a bean that tastes "beany"?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 4:48PM
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fliptx(Houston 9)

"Do you ever find yourself picking the pretty beans out of the bunch and planting them first?"

My instinct used to be to save the prettiest ones, because I liked looking at them. But then it occurred to me that they weren't passing on their genes in my jar.

In my Jumbo beans, I found a couple of seeds that have a very interesting pattern. They look like a dancing figure. I'm singling these out to plant for sure because I'd love it if I could get the same pattern again.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 6:02PM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

I was thinking of cowpeas specifically as they are really more of a bean, although not super closely related. I've seen some interesting heirloom varieties although I cant seem to find any on google right now.

As for Europe not producing good looking beans I was thinking of semi-modern industrialized Europe, there certainly are some good looking older beans that had been produced over the years.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 8:13PM
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