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Facts on the Lima Bean Plant

By Venice Kichura ; Updated September 21, 2017
Lima beans
Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Klaus Post

Lima bean plants originally came from Peru and have continued to grow there since 6000 B.C. The plant gets its name from Peru's capital city, Lima. Along with snap beans, lima beans are the most commonly grown type of bean by home gardeners. The scientific name for lima beans is lunatus, meaning crescent-shaped. These somewhat plumb beans are also called chad beans, while in the South, they’re known as butter beans in markets and restaurants.


Lima bean plants are grown as either bush or pole plants. Bush beans battle more pests and diseases, having a shorter life span. Pole beans take longer to bear beans, but continue yielding them longer. Some gardeners prefer bush beans because they think they taste better, but others favor pole beans. Because bush limas are exceptionally sensitive to cold temperatures, they should only be planted until the ground is completely warm.


Lima beans come in large, small or dwarf varieties. Large limas are speckled or green and have a creamy texture. Small limas are pale green and less starchy. Dwarf limas (butter beans) are speckled and the least starchy of the other two varieties.

Time Frame

The average time needed for lima bean seeds to germinate is 6-10 days. While bush lima bean plants need 70 to 80 days for producing a crop, pole limas take 80 to 95 days.


Lima bean plants need medium to well-drained loamy soils mixed with organic matter. They should not be planted in stony gardens or soils where there’s been a history of weed infestation such as quackgrass. Soil pH should be 6.5, according to GrowQuest.com. Both bush and pole beans can be grown in containers, either indoors or outdoors, so garden space isn’t needed for harvesting the beans.


Because lima beans contain linamarin (cyanogens), never consume them raw. Linamarin releases a cyanide compound whenever the coat of a lima bean seed is opened. The process of cooking deactivates this compound, making it safe to eat lima beans.


Early explorers coming to America first learned about lima beans from native Indian tribes. Unlike maize, which is high in starch and low in protein, lima beans are rich in proteins and furnished protein to the Central American Indians who then ate almost no meat. Lima beans dried well, making them easy to store and transport, so merchants and explorers started stocking them in their ships when exploring early America territories. They also carried these plants to other corners of the world such as in 1591 when they brought them to Europe. By the latter part of the 18th century lima beans were considered an ideal food worldwide.