Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), hearty legumes of the Fabaceae family, originated in Latin America over 7000 years ago, eventually migrating throughout Europe and the United States. Used for fresh cooking or dried for later use, lima beans grow on vines and bushes. Other names include butter, sieva, haba and sugar. Lima beans, toxic due to the presence of cyanogens, must be fully cooked to remove the toxic compounds before eating.
Flowering and Pollination
After the plant has formed proper stems and foliage, white or cream colored flowers begin to set. These blooms secrete nectar, which attracts bees and other insects needed for proper pollination.
Once pollination is complete, the flowers fade and fall away, leaving ovaries that will form the lima bean pods. Resembling pea pods, lima bean pods are flat, fibrous and connected with a pod seam that pops open when squeezed.
When the lima bean pod reaches its genetically determined length, typically 3 to 4 inches, the seeds begin to grow inside and fill out the pod. The seeds, which are the actual lima beans, grow into a flat kidney shape and show colors of white, pale green, red, purple or black, depending on the variety grown.
Lima beans can be harvested any time between mid-pod fill and drying on the vine. Early harvested beans are more tender than their riper counterparts. Pods should be picked for fresh cooking when they are firm, lumpy and still green. Lima beans used for drying can be harvested when the pods begin to yellow and as they continue to dry on the vine.