A red-flowered bean that actually has red flowers, just for a change
I grow three varieties of broad bean at the moment, all 'heritage' types. Red-flowered, Grando Violetto and Martock.
My favourite ... and I mean my favourite broad bean ever ... is the un-named Victorian red-flowered variety. I love it. The flowers are the most beautiful colour and glow in the sunlight. It's a smaller and more dainty plant than a conventional broad bean and grows to about 3ft with three red-tinged stems which usually stay up without support. The pods are small and the beans are pale green and about two-thirds the size of a modern type. But they are very abundant. And the flavour and texture are fantastic. I also found that other than a bit of nibbling by bean weevils the plant was fairly resistant to everything and only mildly bothered by blackfly.
The 'proper' colour for the flowers is a deep crimson with darker burgundy underneath, which fade slightly with age to a deep carmine. But there is some variability among the ones I've grown. Last year I grew six and no two were the same. Colours and markings varied from pale pink to dark cerise, charcoal grey with a pink flush to pale pink and black bicoloured. They were all gorgeous, but I saved seed mainly from the deepest red one. This year I grew 12 plants, mainly from my own seeds, but topped up the numbers with a couple from the original packet. I now don't know which ones were originals and which were mine, but I can guess: I have 10 deep red-flowered plants and two pink and black oddities. So I'm wondering whether the originals had accidentally been cross-pollinated with a 'normal' black and white flowered bean, or whether they naturally have that much variation. Broad beans do cross very readily.
Broad bean Grando Violetto in flower
Grando Violetto is an old Italian variety with very attractive dark purple beans. The plant itself isn't much to write home about ... it's a slightly straggly looking thing and the pods are unspectacular. It's a smallish plant but the stems need support from an early age and it has narrow grey green leaves which are slightly spear shaped. Flowers are a conventional black and white but quite unusual in form, with a pinky-mauve flush at the base. The beans and pods are smaller than a modern variety. They have plenty of substance and flavour though. I don't know how tall the plant naturally grows because mine all got their heads chewed off by slugs. Probably about 3ft though.
Martock can trace its origins back to the middle ages. That makes it the oldest vegetable variety I grow. (But not the oldest plant variety in the garden ... that would probably be a species rose called Alba Semi Plena which was brought over here by the Romans.) It has tiny beans compared to modern varieties, and I can't tell you any more than that because I haven't grown it yet. The plants have just germinated so it's early days.
Size differences in broad bean seeds: left to right, Martock, red-flowered, and a modern strain of Masterpiece Green Longpod.
I'd like to try breeding some new broad beans using the red-flowered type as a basis, but I've been having trouble working out exactly how they pollinate. I couldn't find much info about it on the internet so I had to take a flower to bits and have a look. Very clever it is. The stigma inside the flower is folded over and spring-loaded like a catapult. Given even the lightest touch (i.e. by a bee hovering about wondering how the hell to get in) it boings up and slaps itself straight into the pollen.
Plants are so unsubtle about these things. It's all wham bam thank you ma'am. Or a nymphomaniac on a spring, in this instance.
Maybe if I'd googled for "nymphomaniac on a spring" I'd have got a few more hits. Ah well. And now anybody else who googles for it is going to find my gardening blog and be very disappointed.
So, a broad bean flower doesn't even need to be pollinated by bees, even though that's what it's designed for. Which is probably just as well: I saw a bee the other day chewing through the base of the flowers to get straight to the nectar without bothering to go inside. Lazy little bugger.
Anyroad, I'm beginning to see that hand-pollinating broad beans is going to be extremely difficult. With such a touch sensitive stigma it would only work if you opened up a flower bud and emasculated it before the male bits were ready to shed pollen. Then you'd have to sellotape the bud shut to stop the stigma from drying out. A bit of a palaver really. I think, given that the plants are naturally diverse, I might just let them do their own thing and then select the variations I like and see whether any of them come true from seed.
Another little known fact about broad bean flowers ... they smell utterly gorgeous.
Phwoar, look at them broad bean flowers. Pale pink and black bicoloured variants of the red-flowered type.