Ice Bean Bushes: Nature's Cotton Sweet

Ice bean is a fast growing tree with many uses, including its exotic fruits! The large fruits contain a sweet cotton pulp. The edible pulp is the origin of the name "ice cream" as it has a sweet vanilla flavor, sometimes with a hint of cinnamon, and the texture of cotton candy.

The ice bean has many different names in its home region, and indigenous peoples use the tree for a variety of uses. Most commonly, the cotton fluff is eaten straight from the pod, but it can also be used to sweeten and flavor various foods.

Let's talk more about this fascinating tropical tree and its weird beans filled with sweet, fluffy pulp. We go over everything you need to know to grow and maintain your own ice bean tree!

Good products for growing ice beans:

Brief instructions for care

Ice beanThe ice bean tree produces long pods that are filled with edible fluff. Source: Mauricio Mercadante

Common Name (s) Ice Bean, Guama, Guaba, Cuaniquil, and many other names
Scientific name Inga edulis
Days to harvest 3 years after a new sapling, twice a year afterwards
light Full sun to light shade
Water: Requires regular water until established; can tolerate drought to partial flooding once ripe
ground Prefers sandy or loamy, well-drained soils. Preferably pH of 5-6.5.
fertilizer Light potassium in case of leaf loss
Pests South American fruit fly, pink hibiscus meal bugs
Diseases Basal stem rot; generally very robust

Everything about the ice bean

Ice Bean FlowerThe white bean blossom is a mass of delicate tendrils. Source: Mauricio Mercadante

The ice bean tree or Inga edulis has many names in South America. In Bolivia it is called inga de macao; in Brazil it's called inga; in Colombia it is Guama or Guamo. Costa Ricans call it the guaba or monkey tail; Ecuadorians say Barisa Pacae; in Peru it is guabilla or waupa; and in Venezuela it's Guama or Guamo Liso.

With so many names to choose from, it can be said to be popular! There are hundreds of Inga species, and up to 50 produce edible fruits, each with slightly different sizes and tastes. While some species, such as Inga feuillei, Inga spectabils, and Inga rhynchocalyx, are sometimes confused with Inga edulis, these related species have different shapes of pods that they produce. The ice bean trees have a long, cylindrical pod, in contrast to the other species with their flat or triangular pod shapes.

Technically, the ice bean is a form of legume, although it grows like a tree. It grows quickly, but needs older wood for fruiting and can grow back quickly after being cut. Often times it can even grow back as a series of new shoots from a tree stump.

The genus Inga is growing rapidly and is valued in agroforestry in the tropics. The cattle eat the fruit, the branches are good for wood or nutrient-rich mulch, and the bark is used medicinally. As a fast growing tree, they can be used to quickly create dense shade for subcultures such as coffee and chocolate, fix nitrogen in the soil, and reduce erosion. The ability to grow on poor soils is important for farmers who use it in "alley crops" where cash and food crops are grown between rows of inga trees.

Ice bean trees can grow up to 98 feet tall, although they are typically around 60 feet tall. They have a wide, evergreen canopy with 4-6 green leaves. They bloom at the end of the branches in groups of small, brush-like white flower tendrils. The main blooming season is from June to October, but in some regions it blooms as early as March.

The flowers produce pods that can grow up to 3 feet long and range from straight to curved. The pods are then broken open and reveal an edible pulp. Inga edulis seeds are usually not eaten as they are very bitter. The pulp often tastes like vanilla ice cream or even cinnamon with the texture of cotton candy.

plants

Guama foliageThe ice bean or guama has distinctly tropical foliage. Source: Eran Finkle

Ice beans sprout quickly from seeds and often germinate before the seed husk is even picked from the tree! The seeds lose their viability within a few days, making it difficult to obtain seeds outside of their home growing area. Some gardening shops already stock Inga edulis seedlings, so we'll focus on how to care for your young ice bean tree if you're lucky enough to have found one for yourself!

The best seasons for planting are spring and summer, when temperatures are warm and stable. Avoid planting in winter unless you are in a growing area where temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees at night.

When planting, choose a location in full sun and enough space for a full-grown canopy tree. The most important consideration is mature size as it will grow to be at least 60 feet tall and can reach 98 feet in height. Maintain a weed-free area of ​​at least 3 feet around your seedling to reduce competition.

If you are growing in a pot, choose a sunny spot where the sun can warm the soil. Keep your seedling well watered. If winter temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, move the potted tree to a sheltered location indoors.

maintenance

Ripe and youthful ice beansA comparison of ripe and juvenile ice beans. Source: Dick Culbert

Now let's go through the details of caring for your ice bean tree. This is a relatively sturdy tree that was once established and valued in the tropics for its ability to survive a wide variety of extreme situations. Whether you grow in a pot or in the ground, the ice bean tree is pretty easy to care for!

Sun and temperature

Ice beans grow best in full sun 8 to 10 hours a day. The ideal USDA growth zone is 9-11. Grow temperatures should be between 69 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

In cold temperatures, ice bean trees are damaged when temperatures drop below 30 degrees. Mature trees in the ground can survive a light frost, but temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit can kill them. Protect them from cold temperatures as much as possible.

In cooler weather, the tree drops its leaves and becomes semi-deciduous. When your tree is potted, move it near a bright, sunny window in winter.

Water and moisture

Water your seedling regularly to keep it established, about 1 inch per week. Water so that the top inch of the soil is moist while the seedling is less than 6 months old. Once the tree is firmer, you can turn down the watering a little if necessary.

Mature inga trees can withstand extended periods of drought, but grow best when regularly watered. You can water using drip irrigation, waterer hoses, or most other reliable methods of watering trees. As a tropical plant, they can withstand several months of wet soil followed by several months of drought. If you are growing in a pot or in cooler climates, reduce watering in the winter months, but provide additional water in hot weather.

ground

Ice bean tree is known as a relative of the legume family as a nitrogen fixer. Ice beans can be grown in very poor soil and actually increase the nutritional content of the soil around them! Leaves that fall or are cut down can be used as fertilizer and mulch. Inga grows on soils that range from poor and sandy soils to rich and loamy soils. However, if possible, avoid clay soils. For a pot, choose organic potting soil that drains well.

Ice beans prefer a pH of 5 to 6.5 but can grow in extremely alkaline or extremely acidic soils if necessary. Aim for a neutral range, but don't let the pH of the soil stop you from fully planting.

Fertilize

You shouldn't have to fertilize an ice bean tree very often.

If your tree is losing a lot of leaves and it's not winter, you can apply an organic potassium fertilizer like seaweed flour. Avoid nitrate forms of nitrogen as the tree itself is a nitrogen fixer and does not work well with nitrates. Occasional applications of compost around the base of the tree can also be beneficial.

clipping

The pruning should be done in late winter or early spring. This tree can withstand heavy pruning and can even be planted and used for firewood, although regrowth will take a while and will decrease harvests initially as older wood is needed for the fruit.

Larger trees need regular pruning. You should prune the tree so that it has an even canopy structure with evenly spaced branches on all sides. Try to prevent branches from crossing in the center of the canopy to allow for even distribution of sunlight on the branches.

Fruits appear at the tips of the branches. Therefore, when pruning, be careful not to cut off all mature branches at the same time. It is best to use very sharp tools when pruning to get a clean cut, whether you are using pruning shears or other equipment.

Multiplication

If all of the seed pods are available, the seeds can germinate quickly. The seeds are faithful to the mother plant, so exactly the same type of plant will grow.

It can also be propagated from cuttings that are laid in coarse sand and watered until they form roots. However, seeds are the fastest and easiest way to reproduce.

Harvesting and storing

Ice bean seeds and pulpIn the pods, the seeds are covered with edible cotton pulp. Source: Dick Culbert

Next, let's explain how to harvest your fruits and store them properly. There's not much to it. it's pretty simple and straightforward!

harvest

Harvest the pods when they are plump or fall to the ground. Inga trees can grow up to 60 feet tall, so you may need to drop the ripe fruit to the ground or use a fruit picker. If necessary, you can cut off the stem of the pod as it sticks to the tree. However, they usually resolve when they are ripe.

Be sure to pick up any remaining pods that have fallen as the seeds inside will germinate quickly.

storage

The fruits are enclosed in the hard pods so that they can be stored for up to a week. However, the seeds in the pod can sprout quickly. Hence, it is best to eat ice beans when they are ripe. You can also use the pulp to flavor syrups and freeze for long-term storage, but it's a very bland taste.

Troubleshooting

Towards the end of flowering for Inga edulisAs the bloom wears off, the white will gradually turn brown. Source: Tatters

Now let's talk about some of the problems that can arise when growing ice bean trees.

Growing problems

The most common growing problem for growers outside of tropical America is climate. Ice beans prefer a year-round tropical or subtropical climate. If the tree will too cold and dryit becomes difficult to grow and produce. Growing in a container outside of zones 9-11 will keep your plant watered, in bright sunlight, and warm year round. You may need to repot annually to make room for the tree to grow.

Pests

Ice beans don't have many pests. Oddly enough, they have a symbiotic relationship with some species of ants, and the ants protect the tree from herbivore damage.

The South American fruit fly (Anastrepha fraterculus) can be controlled by cultural practices such as removing fallen ripe fruit before resorting to sprays such as neem oil. Normally these do not strive for closed pods, but only for those that have broken open on the ground. Removing fallen pods keeps them at bay for the most part.

The pink hibiscus mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutus) can be removed by wiping with a damp cloth or a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. You can also blast them off with a hose or sprinkle them with neem oil to smother them.

Diseases

Basal rot and other fungi can sometimes cause problems in humid climates, but the tree is very resistant to most diseases, especially if properly cared for. Keep your plants healthy and they shouldn't have any problems from pests or diseases!

frequently asked Questions

Close up of the Inga edulis flowerA close up of an Inga edulis flower. Source: Ecuador Megadiverso

Q: How long does it take for an ice bean tree to bear fruit?

A: After planting, the ice bean tree should produce fruit within 3 years.

Q: How does ice beans taste?

A: It's sweet and tastes like vanilla ice cream. Some varieties have a hint of cinnamon, almost like the taste of a very mild horchata.

Q: How do you eat ice beans?

A: Open the pod lengthways, pull out the white pulp, suck on it, and spit out the hard seed.

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