When you think of beans, plants that produce vegetables like peas or lentils likely come to your mind. But many ornamental plants that encase their seeds in pods are also considered beans, belonging to the botanical family Leguminosae. This huge family contains quite a few bushy plants that make excellent, colorful garden plants within an herbaceous edge or planting bed.
The Barbados pride bush (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) originated from the West Indies. Occasionally called red bird of heaven, it rises as a multi-stemmed tree which reaches heights of 3 to 10 feet along with an equal spread. Its leaves are fernlike, with many leaflets, and its red, yellow or orange flowers develop in pyramid-shaped clusters known as panicles. The plant’s seeds appear late in the summer, encased in thin, brown pods about 2 inches long. As pods mature, they get contorted, adding extra interest to this plant. Seeds are released when the pods spontaneously open, but are poisonous and shouldn’t be absorbed. The plant is frost-sensitive and suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 10 and above.
A number of bushy plants that belong to this genus Acacia are also legumes that produce seeds in pods. Most acacias are native to warmer areas of Africa and Australia and so are generally drought-tolerant, doing well in arid places. The snowy river wattle (Acacia boormaii) is a good example, growing as a rounded tree 6 to 10 feet in diameter. It produces showy yellow flowers in spring, followed with long pods that enclose its own seeds. Another acacia, the golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha), is the floral emblem of Australia. It develop as a bushy shrub about 12 feet tall that’s covered in spring with fluffy golden-yellow blossoms, followed by masses of dark brown, 5-inch-long seed pods. Both acacia varieties can survive short periods of cold and are hardy in USDA zones 9 and above.
The bauhinia plant (Bauhinia rufescens) is also a member of the legume family, growing as a tree which can become 8 to 10 feet tall at maturity. It has small, round, bluish-green leaves and flower clusters that are either white or light pink. Its seed pods are quite narrow, about 5 inches long, and contain up to ten seeds each. As they mature, the pods turn into a dark red-brown color and become twisted. Bauhinia plants have been African natives that develop well in drier regions, although they also do well near water features like streams. They’re frost-sensitive and suitable for USDA zones 10 and above.
Flowering senna (Senna corymbosa), also known as Argentine senna, is a bushy plant growing to a height of about 8 to 10 feet at maturity. A South American native, the plant has become naturalized in parts of the southern U.S. Its leaves are dark green, thin and organized along a central stem, and also its own deep purple flowers appear in clusters in the spring. After flowering, across thick green pods appear, encasing the plant’s seeds. Flowering senna is frost-resistant and can be grown in USDA zones 8 and above.