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Growing Ice Cream Bean and Pacay: Inga

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The Inga genus is a group of tropical shrubs and trees, with nitrogen-fixing roots, belonging to the Legume family. One of the most well-known members of this genus is Inga edulis, the Ice Cream Bean. Inga feuilleei, Pacay, with similar bean pods, is more cold-hardy and heat tolerant. Inga genus plants are distantly related to other legume family members with edible bean pods or filling, such as Carob, Tamarind and Guamuchil.


Form: Tree.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Temperature and water dependent. Rapid in warm, rainy regions.
Mature Size: 20-30' high and as wide.
Flowers: A tuft of white stamens extend from a light green tube of five fused petals. The flowers are clustered at the end of flowering stems.
Bloom: Spring.
Self-fruitful: No. This plant is self-incompatible. A second tree is required.
Years before fruiting: 7-10 years from seed.
Fruit: A flat bean pod, up to 31" long and 2-3" wide, with a white fibrous filling surrounding hard seeds. The filling is eaten raw and has a taste resembling vanilla ice cream. The seeds can be boiled and ground into an edible flour.
Months for fruit to ripen: 8.
Storage after harvest: The bean pod filling is perishable and should be consumed immediately after the pod is snapped open.
Leaves: Dark green. Five leaflets per cluster. Moderate shade.
Stems: No thorns.
Roots: Strong, invasive, and destructive. Nitrogen-fixing.*
Wildlife: Attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The leaves are browsed by mammals and used to feed livestock. The bean pods are consumed by mammals.
Toxic / Danger: No.
Origin: Peru.

By Haplochromis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=6879448

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-12. Young plants are killed at 32°F, older plants survive to 25°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: To 95°F in native region.
Sun: All day part shade, especially afternoon shade, over 90°F.
Drought tolerant: Not without loss of fruit crop. Native to high rainfall regions.
Water after becoming established: Deep water using basin irrigation, twice a week when flowering and fruiting. The tree does better with high humidity, so extra water during hot, dry days is beneficial. Deep watering will encourage deeper roots.
Soil: Well drained, tolerant of soil conditions, pH 5.1-7.8 (strongly acidic to slightly alkaline). Performs better with moderate organic content. Some varieties tolerate flooding.
Fertilize: *Do not use a nitrogen fertilizer. Use a 0-10-0 ratio fish emulsion-based fertilizer applied monthly to provide potassium. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of magnesium sulfate in water, and pour around the drip line of the tree every month, to supply magnesium. This tree has a low salt tolerance.
Mulch: To retain soil moisture.
Spacing: 10-30', depending on annual pruning.
Planting: Can be grown in a large container.
First Year Care: Protect from freezing.
Prune: Can be shaped. Can be severely pruned after 4 years in the ground to maintain a low canopy.
Litter: Seed pod drop.
Propagation: Seed, cuttings. Seed are viable only for a few weeks, cannot withstand drying or freezing, and often sprout inside the pod.
Uses: Edible pod filling and seeds. These trees are used to provide nitrogen to tropical soils, as shade trees for sun sensitive food crops, and when cut low (pollarded), to provide forage for cattle.


Several Inga species are sold under the Ice Cream Bean name and may vary from the description on this page.

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Latest update: December, 2018