Winged Bean Origins

A case study in crop evolution

Winged bean

The winged bean plant as Rumphius (1747) recorded it.


The winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus (L.) DC.) is a leguminous vegetable plant of the humid tropics. Its origins are obscure; while the other eight named species of Psophocarpus DC. are African, the winged bean is essentially a crop of Asia and the Western Pacific.

Two hypotheses have been proposed to explain this anomaly. One, supported by much recent taxonomic research, postulates that the progenitor of winged bean arose on the African side of the Indian Ocean whence it was carried East and domesticated through human cultivation. The alternative, implies a wider natural distribution for Psophocarpus, with the winged bean first domesticated within an Indian centre in one model, or within island Southeast Asia and Melanesia in another variation.

This review of literature and of research into genetic variation in the winged bean, concludes that the evidence is still insufficient to eliminate either hypothesis, but reveals diverse circumstantial evidence for the antiquity of the domesticate in Southeast Asia and Melanesia.


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