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cowpea, black-eyed pea, or black-eyed bean, annual legume (Vigna sinensis) of the pulse family. Introduced in the early 18th cent. from the Old World to the S United States, it has become a staple of Southern cooking and an important catch crop, soil enhancer, and forage. Cowpea, sometimes called China bean, is grown commercially in India and China and as a high-protein subsistence crop in Africa. Cowpea is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Vigna sinensis), an annual plant of the family Leguminosae. It resembles the kidney bean and the hyacinth bean. The stems, which are straight or prostrate, measure 20–200 cm long. The leaves are large, ternate, and long-petiolate. The inflorescences contain from two to eight yellowish green flowers. The pods, which measure 8–10 cm long, are cylindrical and linear; they contain four to ten seeds. Cowpea requires heat and moisture. The seeds sprout at a temperature of 12°-14°C; the sprouts are sensitive to spring frosts. The plant is cultivated in many countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States, and China. In the USSR it is grown in Transcaucasia, Middle Asia, the Northern Caucasus, and the southern Ukraine. Cowpea does not grow wild. There are many varieties under cultivation, predominantly on chernozem and clay soils—the soils on which they grow best.

Cowpea seeds are extremely tasty and have great nutritional value (containing 24–28 percent protein and 1.5–2 percent fat). They are used for food and forage. The unripened beans of varieties of the asparagus bean ( Vigna sesquipedalis) are eaten as a vegetable in fresh and canned forms. The foliage is used as pasture feed, hay, silage, and green manure; it is very nourishing and easily digestible and can be eaten by all types of livestock except horses. The yield per hectare (ha) is 126–300 centners of foliage, 45–60 centners of hay, and up to 14 centners of seeds (reaching 30 centners in moist subtropical areas). Cowpea that is grown for seeds is planted in wide rows spaced 50–70 cm apart. Plants that are cultivated for fodder and green manure are sown in rows spaced 30–35 cm apart or are planted broadcast. Cowpea is also planted in mixtures with corn, sorghum, sudan grass, and other crops. The rate of sowing for seeds is 35–40 kg/ha; for green fodder, 50 kg/ha; and for silage in mixtures with other crops, 25–30 kg/ha. The seeds are planted at a depth of 4–9 cm. Plantings of cowpea are damaged by pea and bean weevils, beetles, and pea moths. Countermeasures include chemical and agricultural-engineering methods.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Vigna sinensis. An annual legume in the order Rosales cultivated for its edible seeds. Also known as blackeye bean.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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