In many parts of the world -- especially in England and France -- the scarlet runner bean is cultivated both as an ornamental and a vegetable. Until recently, the United States has embraced only its ornamental qualities. The lush, thick vines produce clusters of red flowers that are followed by the edible green beans. The Dutch runner bean, P. c. alba, has white flowers.
Description of scarlet runner bean: Scarlet runner beans are quick-growing vines with typical, 3-leaflet bean leaves. They grow 6 or 8 feet tall. The bean flowers are borne in clusters like sweet peas. The edible pods that follow are long, slender, green beans.
Growing scarlet runner bean: Scarlet runner beans need fertile soil and adequate moisture in full sun. Plant them where they can grow up some kind of support. The beans don't need to be tied -- they twine around posts or poles. For covering fences, some kind of twine or netting will be needed for beans to climb. If allowed to grow over the ground, they will form a tangled mass of leaves, and the flowers will be hidden.
Propagating scarlet runner bean: Start new plants from seeds. Plant the large seeds directly in the ground after danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm. Plant seeds about 3 inches away from fences or posts, spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to a spacing of 6 to 8 inches. Seeds germinate in 5 to 10 days.
Uses for scarlet runner bean: These quick-growing vines are beautiful when trained up posts, arches, pergolas, or arbors. They make quick-growing screens to break up the garden.
Scarlet runner bean related varieties: Most seed catalogs list them only as scarlet runner beans and do not select them for special eating qualities. Butler has stringless beans; Painted Lady bears red and white flowers; Kelvedon Wonder is an early variety with long pods; and Scarlet Emperor is named for the color of its flowers.
Scientific name of scarlet runner bean: Phaseolus coccineus