Do Beans Grow On Trees? You Won’t Believe These Photos!

Every now and then, I learn something that I feel sure I should have known a lot earlier in life. Like this: Do beans grow on trees? Surely that’s something I should know by now. Black beans, kidney beans, haricot beans – how on earth do beans grow? Where do they come from?! I decided to find out, and I was amazed by some of the photos I found. Turns out, beans are so cool, and so beautiful!

Here’s what I discovered about how beans grow.

Beans come from inside bean pods, and can grow on two types of plants: traditionally they grew as vines, which need external support, as they can grow very tall. In more recent years, smaller ‘bush beans’ have been cultivated, which are more practical as they don’t require any additional support.

Image credit: cookbookman17, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Of course: beans like black beans and kidney beans grow in just the same way as green beans! And even lentils grow in pods, too!

It seems so obvious when you think about it – I bet you’re all rolling your eyes at me for not putting two and two together before now. In my defence, it’s 2020, and there are a few other things on my mind right now (I don’t know what my excuse has been for the past thirty years).

In my head, fresh bean pods (like green beans, string beans, and mangetout) are a separate entity to dry bean seeds (like black beans, kidney beans and haricot beans). But in fact, they’re the same type of plant, just prepared for eating in a different way.

Let’s take a closer look at how beans grow, and how we end up with two types of food that look so different, and can be used in such different ways. Some of these photos are seriously amazing, especially all the different coloured beans! They can be so beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a bean in the same way again.

Image credit: zoyachubby, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Do beans grow on trees?

Beans don’t grow on trees, but on bean plants, the Latin name of which is phaseolus vulgaris.

There are two types of bean plants:

Bean poles

Pole beans grow on long vine-like plants, which can reach up to 10 feet tall! Because of this climbing height, the vines need some additional support as they grow. Most gardeners use some sort of wooden trellis or beanpole, so the vines can wind their way up the wooden stick, keeping them strong and stable. Or if you want an even more resourceful solution, Native Americans grow bean plants alongside maize, as the tall cornstalks can act as a support for the long bean plants.

This type of bean plant can keep growing, and keep producing beans, indeterminately, until something stops the growth – usually cold weather.

This actually makes them pretty impractical to grow on an industrial scale! The bean poles continue to get taller and taller, requiring more and more support. They need a lot of ongoing help, so they’re quite labour-intensive for busy farmers.

Also, the fact that they continue producing beans over a long period of time can cause some issues with harvesting the beans. It’s not possible to do one sweep of harvesting, and be finished – there will be more beans growing again soon after!

As a solution to these problems…

Bean bushes

Bush beans were developed more recently, as a more practical alternative to pole beans. The bushes only reach around 2 feet in height, so they don’t require any additional support. Farmers can simply plant the seeds, allow them to grow on their own, and leave them to it – far less maintenance required!

In addition, bush beans produce all of their fruit at once (or at least within a fairly short timeframe!), and then no more beans are produced. This means that the beans can easily be harvested in one go, making them much more practical for commercial farming. Once the beans have been harvested, the land can be cleared, ready for the next crop.

Two types of bean

All types of beans – both fresh bean pods, and dry bean seeds – grow on these two types of bean plants (bean poles / bean bushes).

Fresh bean pods

A fresh bean pod is what you might picture when you think of green beans or mangetout – a long pod (usually green, but also sometimes other colours, like purple or red) with small bean seeds growing inside.

We eat the entirety of a fresh bean pod, usually either raw, boiled or steamed (though they’re lovely roasted too!). Or, if you don’t want to eat them straight away, they can be frozen, canned or pickled.

Dry bean seeds

Then there are dry beans, which are the seeds from inside a fresh bean pod. These include beans like black beans, butter beans, and kidney beans.

Unlike the moist, green seeds you find inside fresh bean pods, dry bean seeds are left to mature inside the pod until they become hard and dry, and develop their mature colour. They actually dry up so much that they rattle around inside the pod! Then they are removed from the pod, dried further, and stored ready for cooking. Dried beans require a lot more cooking than fresh bean pods.

Even though the two types of beans might seem like two entirely different types of food, they come from the same type of plant – they’re just prepared for eating in slightly different ways!

Here are a few more photos showing different types of beans growing inside their pods. These photos show just how stunning beans can be (they don’t only come in green!), and also helps to visualise how bean seeds grow inside bean pods.

Image credit: Peppysis, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Image credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Image credit: binarydreams, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Aren’t they just beautiful! You can see how the bean pods grow on the plant in just the same way that green beans do, and then when you open the pod, there are those vibrant beans inside.

I find it much easier to comprehend how dried beans and green beans come from the same plant when you see it really clearly in photos like these.

Where in the world do beans grow?

Beans grow in countries all around the world – in fact, they grow on every continent except Antarctica (and to be fair, not much grows there!).

In 2016, the largest producer of dried beans was Myanmar in Southeast Asia, who produced 5.2 million tonnes of beans! And China is the world’s largest producer of green beans, by a huge margin – in 2016, they grew 79% of the world’s green beans – that’s 18.7 tonnes! (source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

Other countries known for growing vast quantities of beans are India, Brazil, Mexico, and Tanzania.

As you can see, that’s a pretty wide variety of countries, spread all around the world – unlike some other plants, beans aren’t limited to growing in just one specific climate. Perhaps that’s why beans are a staple food in all sorts of different cuisines: black beans in Mexican tacos, fermented black bean sauce on Chinese stir fries, Indian bean curries, British baked beans on toast… the list goes on. Beans of all kinds are cooked and enjoyed around the world!

Did you know how beans grow? Am I the only one who didn’t put two and two together?

Becca Heyes

Becca Heyes is a full-time writer, recipe developer, and bean eater. She spends most of her time writing for her vegetarian food blog, Easy Cheesy Vegetarian, and lives in the UK with her husband, two tiny children, and even tinier dog. She thoroughly enjoys eating excessive amounts of lentils as research for this website.

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