~ The Scarlet Runner Bean, Phaseolus coccineus ~
Scarlet runner bean have a lot of great features that make it a worthwhile addition to the garden.
It's a fast growing, informal climber that will overrun bushes, arbors, trellises, fences and specially placed strings wherever it is provided with sunshine, fertilizer, and generous waterings. Bright orange flowers are produced abundantly and continuously from mid-summer to the first autumn frost, above healthy heart-shaped foliage in a particularly bright, constrasting emerald green, drawing in hummingbirds and bees. It reaches lenghts of 5 meters.
North America tend to view the edible green bean pods (tender when young, raw or cooked, picked at 5-9 cm) as tougher than supermarket green beans; the British regard it as tastier. The unripe bean seeds can also be used fresh as a lima bean substitute (which do not grow in Canada) in wholesome country soups, stews and even salads. And on the subject of salads, adventurous chefs will definitely want to accent theirs with the raw blooms, which have a delicate bean flavor, for their appealing color. Even the starchy roots are edible.
When the pods mature, they dry on the vine and the extra-large, lima-bean shaped seeds, mottled in purple-pink and black are easily extracted - a fun job for preschoolers.
Like any member of the pea family, the scarlet runner bean has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that enter the roots, and cooperate with the plant to form root nodules where the bacteria fixes nitrogen (natural fertilizer) from the atmosphere into a chemical form usable by the plant, while the plant provides the bacateria with sugars and shelter. When the plants are cut down in the fall, these nodules remain in the soil and provide some nutrients for the next year's plantings.
In Canada, this plant is grown as an annual, though it is perennial in its native Mexico. In fact, the fleshy roots can be dug up in the fall and stored like dahlias, to be replanted the following spring. They will bloom earlier than if grown from seed, but they do grow so quickly from seed that this is hardly necessary. Might as well just cooked them up, yum!
Some cultivars, such as 'Pickwick' shown below, have the the "Runner" bred out of the "Scarlet Runner" and do not climb. They can be useful as original bedding plants, as the blooms are held high above the foliage.
'Painted Lady' is another popular cultivar featuring bicolored orange and white flowers.
For the purpose of attracting hummingbirds, use the standard scarlet variety, and make the largest display you can! Hummingbirds feel more secure about food supplies if they seem especially abundant, and more likely to vist reapeatedly.
Click on photos on the left to enlarge.
The Scarlet Runner Bean is reliably hardy to zone 8.
Site, Soil and Habit
Requires a warm sheltered sunny position, in light, fertile, moist soil.
By seed. Direct seed outdoors after the danger of frost has passed, when soil temperature reaches 10C. Pre-soaking the seeds for 24 hours speeds up germination.
Scarlet Runner Bean Links
Plants For A Future - Page on the Scarlet Runner Bean.|
Tangy Scarlet Runner Bean Salad - Recipe from Chef2Chef.
Baked Gratin of Scarlet Runner Bean - Recipe from Yumyum.com.
Herbed Bean Salad with Scarlet Runner Blossoms - Recipe from the Sage Kitchen.
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