University of California

Origin, dispersal, and variability of the lima bean, Phaseolus lunatus


W. W. Mackie

Author Affiliations

W. W. Mackie was Agronomist in the Experiment Station.

Publication Information

Hilgardia 15(1):1-29. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v15n01p001. March 1943.

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Origin and Dispersal

Columbus on his first voyage of discovery found beans under intensive cultivation by the Indians in Cuba. Other early Spanish explorers likewise encountered cultivated beans. English and French explorers, following the Spanish, found beans along the whole Atlantic Coast as far north as Virginia (10).3 The lima bean, however, appeared to be restricted to the area south of the Potomac River in Virginia, where it is still found in close resemblance to the original primitive forms of the inhabited islands of the West Indies, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Central America, the western coast of Mexico, and northward to the Hopi pueblos in the southwestern United States. The antiquity of these lima beans is further confirmed by the extensive discoveries of large lima beans of various colors in the tombs of ancient Peruvian cultures (49) and in excavations of pre-Columbian ruins of the southwestern agricultural Indians (38).

It is evident from the records of explorers and botanists that the lima beans have been distributed by man. From these early bean cultures, the lima beans have escaped into the jungles and have established themselves in a wild state where they are recovered at the present time. In North and South America these escaped lima beans are undoubtedly of pre-Columbian origin, but similar escapes are found throughout the world in tropical countries where they have been introduced in post- Columbian times (43).

The origin of the lima bean has been confused. The origin of the large lima has been placed in the Amazon Valley by Bentham (6) and accepted by deCandolle (9) in his studies on the origin of cultivated plants.

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Mackie W. 1943. Origin, dispersal, and variability of the lima bean, Phaseolus lunatus. Hilgardia 15(1):1-29. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v15n01p001
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