Why winged bean?
useful garden vegetable
The winged bean is a useful semi-domesticated legume,
distributed widely, but not intensively, throughout the humid tropics
of Asia and Melanesia. In parts of Myanmar (Burma) and Papua New
Guinea there are varieties that produce edible tubers on the scale
of a field crop. More commonly, winged beans are grown for their
winged fruits, and then, one or two vigorous vines are sufficient
to meet individual household needs. All parts of the plant have
a high crude protein content, which is valuable from a nutritional
point of view.
edible parts of winged bean
What makes the plant interesting from the viewpoint
of those who study crop evolution, is its enigmatic geographical
distribution: the winged bean is an agricultural plant of Asia,
whereas the only related species in the wild, are restricted
to Africa. No wild progenitor of winged bean is found in Asia,
whereas, apparently, the winged bean had never been grown as
a crop in Africa until the nineteenth century.
This kind of biogeographical conundrum is not
uncommon in the study of domesticated plants and animals, but
the winged bean makes a particularly useful subject to study,
because its minor agricultural importance has kept its genetic
heritage relatively undisturbed by colonial migrations and by
modern plant breeding methods.
The purpose of this case study, then, is to
use the story of the winged bean to demonstrate how the student
of crop evolution sets about answering questions of the kind:
"from where did this crop arise?"
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