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History of the Bean

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Beans were one of the earliest food crops raised by man, and several varieties were probably cultivated by prehistoric men. Broad beans were raised for food and forage in ancient Greece and Rome. They were also used as ballots in voting. Broad beans were probably introduced into western Europe by invading Romans. Lima beans and several varieties of kidney beans, which are native to South America, were cultivated by North and South American Indians.

Phaseolus vulgaris is the common or kidney bean, the best known of all beans, with up to 100 named varieties being grown commercially or in the home garden. The lima bean, Phaseolus limensis, and the dwarf lima have been cultivated in South America since prehistoric times. The pods are harvested and shelled like peas before being dried or canned. The soybean, Glycine max, originated in China and was introduced into the United States in around 1800. It is now a leading crop and is processed into protein meal and oil. Runner beans, Phaseolus multiflorus, are mostly grown as ornamental plants except in Great Britain, where they are eaten as a vegetable. They are tall, climbing plants with scarlet or white flowers.

Bean plants are valuable soil enrichers because of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in nodules on their roots. Some bean plants are raised for pasturing animals or for silage. Several species are raised as ornamental plants. A few species, including the navy bean and the soybean, provide industrial raw materials, including bases for paints, inks, and soaps.

Except for the broad bean, which thrives in a cool, moist climate, most beans need a warm, dry climate and are easily killed by frost.

Beans are attacked by a number of fungus diseases, of which the most common are anthracnose, root rot, and rust. The most common insect pest is the Mexican bean beetle (Epilachna varivestis).

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