Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus) P1240067

12 Interesting Facts About Scarlet Runner Bean

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The scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) is a fascinating plant with a long history. Known for its vibrant red flowers and huge bean pods, this fast-growing vine has captivated gardeners for centuries.

Beyond its visual appeal, the scarlet runner offers ecological benefits and a tasty edible harvest. Its nitrogen-fixing roots improve soil fertility, attracting pollinators while providing nutritious beans.

Here are 12 intriguing facts about this eye-catching bean:

1. Striking Flowers That Attract Hummingbirds

The scarlet runner gets its name from its brilliant scarlet-red flowers, which bloom in clusters from early summer through first frost. The blooms can reach over 2 inches long, making them a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies.

In fact, many gardeners grow runner beans solely for their ability to attract hummingbirds! The vine’s bright blossoms contain nectar perfectly suited to these tiny energetic birds.

2. Unique Growing Habits

Unlike most bean varieties, the scarlet runner is a tender perennial plant. In zones 8-11, established vines will often survive winter and return the next year. However, most gardeners treat them as annuals.

These beans form strong climbing vines that can readily grow 10-20 feet tall on trellises or poles! So they make a great decorative screen when grown on fences or arbors. Their rapid, ambitious growth allows them to cover supports quickly.

3. Highly Nutritious Edible Beans

While mainly ornamental in the U.S., scarlet runner beans are widely consumed in Europe. When picked young, the pods make tasty “green beans” with their own unique, nutty flavor.

The shelled dried beans are also edible. They require longer soaking and cooking than other beans but have a rich, meaty taste and creamy texture. The seeds come in colorful patterns like purple-and-black or cream-and-cranberry.

Blüten Feuerbohne (Phaseolus coccineus)
Blüten Feuerbohne (Phaseolus coccineus)

4. Nitrogen-Fixing Soil Improver

Like other legumes, scarlet runner beans form symbiotic relationships with soil bacteria that convert nitrogen in the air into compounds that plants can use.

Their roots accumulate nitrogen nodules, enriching the surrounding earth. So over time, growing runner beans can boost soil fertility for other crops planted in rotation.

5. Prolific Producer

Given proper support, scarlet runner beans yield heavily, making them one of the most productive bean varieties. The fast-growing annual vines start flowering within 60 days and continue over several months.

With their rapid growth and extended flowering period, runner beans offer one of the longest harvests amongst beans. A single healthy plant can produce dozens of bean pods under the right conditions!

6. Shelled Beans as Decorations

The colorful dried runner beans make attractive decorations for flower arrangements and crafts. Their mix of hues and speckled, mottled patterns add eye-catching accents to displays.

The beans’ unique shape and substantial size also provide visual interest whether displayed in bowls or incorporated into wreaths, necklaces, candle rings, and other decorative touches.

7. Edible Flowers

In addition to the pods and seeds, scarlet runner bean flowers themselves are edible! They have a mildly sweet, grassy, herbal taste reminiscent of the beans they’ll later form.

The blooms add a pop of color and flavor when tossed into salads or used to garnish soups and other dishes. Try stuffing them with soft cheese for an elegant appetizer!

8. Shelling and Freezing Beans

To enjoy fresh runner beans all year long, shell and freeze them at their peak. Blanch young whole pods briefly to maintain texture and flavor before packing into airtight containers.

Frozen scarlet runner beans retain their taste and nutrients for enjoying long after the growing season ends. They’ll brighten up winter meals as flavorful additions to soups and stews.

9. Companion Planting with Corn

Interplanting scarlet runner beans and corn creates beneficial connections between the two crops. As nitrogen fixers, the beans help fertilize the soil around the corn’s roots.

Meanwhile, the tall corn stalks provide natural trellises supporting the vining bean plants. Together, they efficiently share space and nutrients in the garden bed.

10. Important Part of Traditional Diets

While runner beans are usually ornamental in modern American gardens, they have long played an integral role in traditional foodways elsewhere.

In certain regional cuisines, particular heirloom runner bean varieties are essential ingredients in iconic dishes. For instance, the large white beans called “gigantes” are central to Greek cuisine.

11. Long History of Cultivation

Scarlet runner beans share an ancient history with humans. As early as the 7th century BCE, indigenous peoples in Mexico had already domesticated runner beans from wild vines.

Spanish records from the 1500s describe Mesoamerican gardens filled with scarlet runner beans trellised on corn stalks – much as they’re still grown today! Europeans soon carried them back across the Atlantic.

12. Improved Varieties for Cooler Climates

While runner beans require warm weather, plant breeders have developed special varieties that can set pods in cooler conditions.

By selecting beans that mature earlier and tolerate lower temperatures, innovations like ‘Aintree’ and ‘St. George’ have expanded options for would-be growers in cooler zones.

With their long history and many uses, scarlet runner beans are beautiful, ecologically beneficial, and versatile for gardens worldwide. Give these charismatic climbing beans a try this year!

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