By: Grace Ju
Published: 2003-01-20


For many years, ECHO’s seedbank has distributed varieties of velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens), all of which are climbing vines. In 1997 Milton Flores with CIDICCO in Honduras provided our seedbank with seed for a bush velvet bean that is being grown widely in Brazil. We have grown and distributed this bush velvet bean on a limited scale since that time, and now are offering it to our network.

As the name implies, bush velvet bean is a dwarf or bushy type that does not climb. Because it will not climb on the stalks of corn, sorghum or cane, it can be intercropped with annuals without the extra work of controlling the vines. It is a short-lived annual that flowers in 80 to 90 days, unlike most velvet beans that flower only during short days. (Note that ECHO also has vining “90day” velvet bean that flowers regardless of day length.) Its short life and ability to set seed regardless of day length offer advantages in some crop rotations. Most vining types will not die until they have matured seeds, which could be a year or more from planting. Because of its determinate growth, it has a shorter life span and does not produce as much dry matter as the indeterminate velvet bean.

Bush velvet bean is used as a ground cover, green manure and forage, and in some regions the seeds are eaten. (We do not recommend that, because almost certainly they contain substantial amounts of L-dopa, the drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease. See pages 289 to 293 in our book Amaranth to Zai Holes, as well as EDN 56). Bush velvet bean is often grown in orchards in preference to the climbing velvet bean varieties because the latter would frequently need to be cut from the trees.

Other than bushiness, shorter life span and lower production of dry matter, much that can be said of climbing velvet beans can also be said of bush velvet bean. It can fix as much as 200 kg/ha of nitrogen and produce about 4 tons/ha of dry matter in soils of medium to high fertility. It also promotes nematode control in soils. Bush velvet bean can grow at elevations as high as 2000 m. It grows best in temperatures of 20-30°C and is sensitive to frost. It is drought resistant and very insect resistant.

Animals can be sent into areas to graze the bush velvet bean leaves, pods and beans. The seeds can be ground into flour and used as feed; chickens can tolerate up to 15% Mucuna in their feed. Read our articles on uses and cautions of velvet bean as animal feeds in EDN 56 and 57.

The scientific name that came with the seeds sent to us, and the name used in literature from Brazil, is Mucuna enana. Nomenclature for velvet beans is incredibly complex and constantly changing. We try our best to keep up with the changes. A report written about use of velvet beans in the United States about 70 years ago mentions that a single bushy plant was selected from a farmer’s field of vining velvet beans, implying that bushiness may have been a result of mutation. So are we dealing with two species of bush velvet bean or are they the same? We do not know. The bush velvet bean that was selected in the USA became widely grown until mechanization and use of fertilizers displaced velvet bean-based cropping systems in the USA. (Velvet beans originally came from SE Asia.)

Regardless of what its scientific name should be, if you are working not-for-profit in a developing country, you may select one sample packet of bush velvet bean free of charge.