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Ice cream bean

December 9, 2011

The ice cream bean (Inga edulis, Fabaceae) is native to tropical South America where it is a fast-growing tree. The bean pods may reach 20 cm and they contain a white sugary pulp reminding one of the sweet cotton candy sold at theme parks. As an experiment our tropical gardening school students recently planted ten seedlings at various places at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. We offer one plant free of charge to any VIP card holder at the vernissage on Sunday.

A typical winged leaf of the ice cream bean.

Eric Danell

5 Comments leave one →
  1. kentiopsis permalink
    December 9, 2011 2:16 AM

    Can you say something about how competitive this tree is? Or is this something you hope to learn about with your experimental plants? Before I plant them, I always want to consider how trees will affect nearby plants. One trait I like that many legumes have is foliage that allows filtered light to pass through to create a nice environment for desireable understory plants.

    • December 9, 2011 7:55 AM

      That is an important comment. I plan to grow cacao under these trees. The ice cream bean is often used as a shade tree for coffee in South America. In another area I planted the ice cream beans far from anything else, and in a third area I planted them near a quarry to provide a living screen as well as to improve soil stability. In all cases we selected full sun.


  2. December 10, 2011 5:26 AM

    Yes we do grow this Inga and several othes species of Ingas in Hawaii. I think this is a very valuable multi purpose tree that is not yet well appreciated. It fixes nitrogen and here will grow in pure lava rock, dropping it’s leaves and vastly improving the soil. It is flowering and fruiting all the time and bees really love it. The fruit is the part around the seed and it delicious. Bit of a misnomer as it tastes more like cotton candy than ice cream. The wood is also usable as timber and firewood. The tree is very useful as a shade tree, grow very wide and very fast. Should not be planted close to foundations or as a lawn tree as it has surface roots. If you don’t mow or eat the pods it will drop it’s seeds and start hundreds of little new trees. But birds and other animals here don’t spread it.
    Oscar, Hawaii

  3. Mark Dickson permalink
    March 10, 2016 3:44 PM

    Eric, I’m in Northeastern Thailand (Changwat Udon Thani) and would be interested in the learning about other uses for this tree in Inga Alley farming for this area. Not much in the way of Cacao or Coffee farming close by but was wondering if it would be suitable for other crops? Please let me know when you have a chance. Thanks, Mark

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