Phaseolus lunatus (Lima Bean, Sieva Been, Butter
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Eurosid I > Fabales > Family: Fabaceae > Subfamily: Papilionoideae
Lima Beans originate from Central and South America where they were
domesticated at least 8500 years ago.
Wild Lima Beans originate from Central and South America
where they are common in seasonally wet and dry climates. They grow as vines
that grow over surrounding vegetation in the wet season and then die back in the
dry season. They have perennial roots so the plant is able to grow back the
following season. Domestication of P. lunatus appears to have taken
place twice. The earlier domestication occurred in northwestern South America
and produced the large Lima Bean varieties. The earliest evidence for this
domestication comes from a Peruvian archaeological site (Guitarrero Cave) where
Lima Bean seeds were found from levels dating to 6500 BC, 1000 years earlier
than P. vulgaris beans found at the same site and earlier than maize
domestication. Sieva Bean, Butter Bean and Baby Lima Bean varieties originate
from the second domestication which occurred in Central America, probably
in Guatemala although the earliest archaeological evidence is from Mexico dating
to at the latest 800 AD. For both domestications, the earliest archaeological
evidence comes from sites that are beyond the present day range of wild P.
lunatus suggesting that domestication did not begin in the regions where
these archaeological sites are situated.
Growing of Lima Beans spread into North America from about 1300 AD. With European exploration, Lima Beans were brought back to
Europe and were under cultivation there by the 1500's.
Wild P. lunatus seeds have high levels of
glucosides which break down to toxic hydrocyanic acid when the seeds are
bruised or chewed. However, modern domesticated varieties, particularly those
with white seeds, have minimal quantities and are not dangerous. Cooking in boiling water
also destroys the
Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of
crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.