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How Salt Tolerant Is a Bean Plant?

By Elise Cooke ; Updated September 21, 2017
Beans are an important food worldwide.
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Beans are a staple all over the world. They're high in protein, nutrients and fiber. Beans can be consumed fresh in their pods or shelled and dried into a product that can last for years under the right conditions. They're easy to grow, even in poor soils. As a legume, they fix nitrogen in the ground and are often grown as a green manure to improve farmland tilth and fertility. Any potential threat to bean production is taken seriously in agricultural spheres.

The Salt Problem in Agriculture

Irrigation often speeds salt build-up.
crops in rows image by david hughes from Fotolia.com

The presence of salts in cultivated soils is one such threat to agricultural food production in general and beans in particular. Over time, salt concentrations tend to build up in cultivated soil. This salt is either brought to the land in irrigation water, or was already present in the ground, but becomes more prevalent when crops leach other minerals out of the dirt, leaving the salt behind. In either case, it's become a serious enough problem to affect one-fifth of the world's cropland. Two types of salt in particular are most prevalent: sodium chloride (the same mineral as table salt) and sodium sulfate.

How Salt Affects Beans

Water is essential to bean growth.
Runner Bean Plants image by chrisharvey from Fotolia.com

Salts dissolve readily in water, separating into positively charged sodium and negatively charged sulfates or chloride. The element sodium is chemically similar to potassium, which means it will bind readily in plant cells and inhibit cellular functions. Osmotic pressure drives water out of the roots of plants, which is especially bad for beans as their long stems require hydraulic pressure to keep their structure. As a result of dehydration and inhibited nutrient use, beans shrivel and lose their color. Overall, their leaves, stems and roots are smaller in direct correlation with the salt concentration in their environment. Bloom and seed production are severely curtailed. Exposed too long to salt, or too high a concentration, and bean plants will die.

Beans and Salt Sensitivity

Season them after cooking, not while cultivating.
salt image by Andrey Rakhmatullin from Fotolia.com

Beans need more water than many other types of crops, due to their rapid, tall growth. As a result, salt's dehydrating qualities especially affect them. Beans are among the most salt-sensitive of all field crops.

How Beans Resist Salt

Beans are built to withstand a hot afternoon, not a whole salty life.
Bean shoots image by Scott Latham from Fotolia.com

Beans do have a couple of defense mechanisms for resisting excess salinity. When water becomes less available, either because of drought conditions or osmotic pressure, beans close the stomata on their leaves, thereby reducing water loss through transpiration. They also produce an osmolyte called proline, which stabilizes cell membranes, making them less permeable, so water can't leach out of cells so readily. Unfortunately, the closed stomata and proline production affect other plant systems adversely, so these short-term coping mechanisms can ultimately hasten a plant's demise.

Salt Tolerance of Beans

Bean variety demonstrates genetic diversity.
bazaar trade of various bean image by Maria Brzostowska from Fotolia.com

Plant breeders hope to genetically exploit beans' water-saving mechanisms to develop more salt-resistant strains of plants.


About the Author


Elise Cooke has been a professional writer since 1990. She is a national award-winning author of three books on creative frugality and she has written for "Bay Area Kids Magazine," The Bay Area Newsgroup and various other publications as well as her website, SimpletonSolutions. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of California at Davis.