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name applied to the seeds of leguminous trees and shrubs and to various leguminous plants of the family Leguminosae (pulsepulse,
in botany, common name for members of the Fabaceae (Leguminosae), a large plant family, called also the pea, or legume, family. Numbering about 650 genera and 17,000 species, the family is third largest, after the asters and the orchids.
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 family) with edible seeds or seed pods (legumes). The genera and species encompassed by the term bean are many and variable. The broad beans (Vicia faba, of the vetch genus), the soybeansoybean,
 soya bean,
or soy pea,
leguminous plant (Glycine max, G. soja, or Soja max) of the family Leguminosae (pulse family), native to tropical and warm temperate regions of Asia, where it has been cultivated as a principal crop
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 types (Glycine max), and a few lesser species were the only beans known to the Old World before the discovery of America, by which time the indigenous peoples had already developed most of the bean types still used today, e.g., the lima beans, kidney beans, string beans, shell beans, and pea beans. All these are species and varieties of Phaseolus, the "true" bean genus; the hereditary history of most is unknown, and hence the taxonomic distinctions are often still uncertain. The plants are easily cultivated but susceptible to several diseases, e.g., rusts, blights, wilts, and bean anthracnose (a fungus).

Types of Beans

In general, beans are warm-season annuals (although the roots of tropical species tend to be perennial) that grow erect (bush types) or as vines (pole or running types). Field beans are mostly the bush type and are used as stock feed. This has also become the principal use of the ancient large-seeded broad bean (called also the horse or Windsor bean), still widely grown in Europe but seldom as food for humans.

The common garden beans comprise several bush types and most of the pole types; the most often cultivated and most varied species, P. vulgata, is familiar as both types. P. vulgata is the French haricot and the Spanish frijolefrijole
[Span. fríjol ], in Mexico and the Spanish-American countries, any cultivated bean of the genus Phaseolus. The term frijole refers to the small, flat, black bean that ranks next to corn in importance in the diet of most Latin American
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. String beans, snap beans, green and yellow wax beans, and some kidney beans are eaten as whole pods; several kidney beans, pinto beans, pea beans, and many other types are sold as mature dry seeds. The lima or butter beans (P. lunatus, including the former P. limensis), usually pole but sometimes bush types, have a long history; they have been found in prehistoric Peruvian graves. The sieva is a type of lima. The scarlet runner (P. multiflorus), grown in Europe for food, is mainly an ornamental vine in North America. The tepary (P. acutifolius latifolius), a small variety long grown by Indians in the SW United States, has been found better suited to hot, arid climates and is more prolific than the frijole.

Other beans are the hyacinth bean or lablab (Dolichos lablab), grown in E Asia and the tropics for forage and food and cultivated in North America as an ornamental vine; the asparagus bean or yard-long bean (Vigna sesquipedalis), grown in E Asia for food but often cultivated in the West as a curiosity; and the velvet bean (Stizolobium), cultivated in the S United States as a forage and cover crop. The carobcarob
, leguminous evergreen tree (Ceratonia siliqua) of the family Leguminosae (pulse family), native to Mediterranean regions but cultivated in other warm climates, including Florida and California.
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, the cowpeacowpea,
 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,
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 or black-eyed pea, and the chickpeachickpea,
annual plant (Cicer arietinum) of the family Leguminosae (pulse family), cultivated since antiquity for the somewhat pealike seeds, which are often used as food and forage, principally in India and the Spanish-speaking countries.
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 or garbanzo are among the many other legumes sometimes considered beans. The sacred bean of India is the seed of the Indian lotus (of the water lilywater lily,
common name for some members of the Nymphaeaceae, a family of freshwater perennial herbs found in most parts of the world and often characterized by large shield-shaped leaves and showy, fragrant blossoms of various colors.
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Uses of Beans

Because seeds contain much protein, beans are useful as a meat substitute and in different parts of the world are a characteristic item—often a staple—of the national fare. Baked beans, cooked for hours with pork or molasses or both, are a traditional New England dish. The Greeks and Romans used the broad bean for balloting—black seeds to signify opposition and white seeds agreement. This custom lingered in England in the election of the king and queen for Twelfth Night and other celebrations and was taken to the New World colony at Massachusetts Bay, where Indian beans were used.


Beans are classified in the division MagnoliophytaMagnoliophyta
, division of the plant kingdom consisting of those organisms commonly called the flowering plants, or angiosperms. The angiosperms have leaves, stems, and roots, and vascular, or conducting, tissue (xylem and phloem).
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, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


Any of several leguminous plants, or their seeds, long utilized as food by humans or livestock. Some 14 genera of the legume family contain species producing seeds termed “beans” which are useful to humans. Twenty-eight species in 7 genera produce beans of commercial importance, which implies that the bean can be found in trade at the village level or up to and including transoceanic commerce.

The principal Asiatic beans include the edible soybeans, Glycine sp., and several species of the genus Vigna, such as the cowpea and mung, grams, rice, and adzuki beans. The broad bean (Vicia faba) is found in Europe, the Middle East, and Mediterranean region, including the North African fringe. Farther south in Africa occur Phaseolus beans, of the vulgaris (common bean) and coccineus (scarlet runner) species. Some Phaseolus beans occur in Europe also. The cowpea, used as a dry bean, is also found abundantly in Nigeria.

In the Americas, the Phaseolus beans, P. vulgaris and P. lunatus (lima bean), are the principal edible beans, although the blackeye cowpea, mung bean, and chick pea or garbanzo (Cicer arietinum) are grown to some extent. Phaseolus coccineus is often grown in higher elevations in Central and South America, as is Vicia faba. The tepary bean (P. acutifolius) is found in the drier southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

Bean plants may be either bush or vining types, with white, yellow, red, or purple flowers. The seed itself is the most differentiating characteristic of bean plants. It may be white, yellow, black, red, tan, cream-colored, or mottled, and range in weight from 0.0044 to over 0.025 oz (125 to over 700 mg) per seed. Seeds are grown in straight or curved pods (fruit), with 2–3 seeds per pod in Glycine to 18–20 in some Vigna.

Beans are consumed as food in several forms. Lima beans and snap beans are used as fresh vegetables, or they may be processed by canning or freezing. Limas are also used as a dry bean. Mung beans are utilized as sprouts. Usage of dry beans (P. vulgaris) for food is highly dependent upon seed size, shape, color, and flavor characteristics, and is often associated with particular social or ethnic groups.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the fruit of the plants of the order Leguminosae, formed from the elevated ovaries of single carpels. It is usually a dry fruit, opening from top to bottom by two pulses (peas, French beans, vetch, and others). The beans of some varieties (such as sweet clover and clover) do not open. The beans of the peanut ripen in the soil and do not crack. The beans of the “horn of Tsargrad” (Ceratonia siliqua) are succulent and sweet. The bean usually contains several seeds, fastened to the peritoneal joint by short placentas. The size, shape, and structure of beans vary—in most types the bean is straight, more or less planar (for example, peas and French beans); in others they are round, bent, or twisted into spirals (common alfalfa). Some varieties of beans break into one-seed parts. The pulses of wild varieties of beans twist up suddenly and scatter their seeds. The leguminous seeds are called beans by laymen, and the beans themselves are called pods. This is incorrect, as the pod has different markings and is characteristic of the Cruciferae family.

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


The common name for various leguminous plants used as food for humans and livestock; important commercial beans are true beans (Phaseolus) and California blackeye (Vigna sinensis).
A restriction, such as a nipple, which is placed in a pipe to reduce the rate of fluid flow.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. any of various leguminous plants of the widely cultivated genus Phaseolus producing edible seeds in pods
2. any of several other leguminous plants that bear edible pods or seeds, such as the broad bean and soya bean
3. any of various other plants whose seeds are produced in pods or podlike fruits
4. the seed or pod of any of these plants
5. any of various beanlike seeds, such as coffee
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


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A component software architecture from Oracle that runs in the Java environment. JavaBeans are independent Java program modules that are called for and executed. They have been used primarily for developing user interfaces at the client side. The server-side counterpart is Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs). See EJB and component software.
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