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Growing Pacay / Ice Cream Bean: Inga feuilleei

Botanical Overview

A member of the Legume family, known for its nitrogen-fixing roots, the Inga genus is a group of 381 tropical shrubs and trees. Several species have edible, tasty seedpod filling and are known as Ice Cream Bean. Of these, Inga feuilleei, Pacay, is the most cold hardy, most heat tolerant, and most widely cultivated.


Form: A tree with a rounded-depressed, spreading canopy.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Rapidly growing in warm, rainy regions, it may be slow during its first year in the ground, then develop faster in subsequent years with sufficient water.
Mature Size: 20-40' high and as wide in dry climates, it easily reaches 40-100' in its native environment.
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: Perhaps, although the trees in this genus are usually not. A second tree will improve productivity.
Years before fruiting: 5-7 years from seed.
Fruit: A bean pod, with four sides and four rolled edges, 8-24" long and 2-3" wide, having a white fibrous filling surrounding hard seeds. The filling is eaten raw and tastes like juicy cotton candy, sometimes with a hint of vanilla. The seeds can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The seeds often sprout inside the pod when it becomes ripe.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2 or more. The bean pods are ripe when the edges start to yellow while the sides are still green.
Storage after harvest: The bean pod filling can last up to five days at room temperature after harvest, but tastes even better refrigerated. The filling is perishable and should be consumed immediately after the bean pod is opened.
Leaves: Dark green, 3-4 pairs of leaflets per cluster, with winged central leaf stalks. Moderate to dense shade.
Stems: No thorns.
Roots: Nitrogen-fixing.*
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The leaves are browsed by mammals and used to feed livestock. The bean pods are consumed by birds and mammals.
Toxic / Danger: No.
Origin: Peru.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 10-12. Young plants are damaged at 32°F, older plants are damaged at 29°F but survive to 25°F, although with limb dieback. Protect from freezing wind.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Not without loss of fruit crop. This plant is native to moderate and high rainfall regions but becomes drought tolerant with age. It will need extra water in high temperatures and should be kept away from drying wind.
Sun: Full sun. Trees in part shade become spindly and flower less.
Planting: Locate this tree where it will receive full sun and is protected from wind. Space trees 16' apart when planting more than one.
Soil: This tree needs well drained soil, with pH 5.1-7.8 (strongly acidic to slightly alkaline). It is tolerant of soil conditions otherwise, and some varieties tolerate flooding.
Fertilize: *Do not use a nitrogen fertilizer. In alkaline soil, fertilize at the drip line, mid-winter, mid-spring and mid-summer, with a source of potassium and magnesium. Iron and zinc supplements may also be needed mid spring or mid summer.
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 better able to handle heat and drought.
Mulch: Apply mulch under the drip line to retain soil moisture and reduce soil temperature.
First Year Care: Protect from freezing and strong winds. Deep water twice a week, more often in the first three weeks.
Prune: This tree can be shaped, and can be severely pruned after 4 years in the ground to maintain a low canopy.
Litter: Seed pod drop.
Propagation: Air layering, leafy cuttings, seed. Seed are viable only for a few weeks unless refrigerated, often sprout inside the ripe pod, and are not viable dried. Ripe, unopened pods, sold online and delivered quickly, may be a way to obtain viable seeds.
Uses: Pacay bears seedpods with edible filling and seeds, provides shade for food crops, supplies nitrogen to soils in which it grows, and when cut low (pollarded), provides forage for cattle.


Inga genus plants are distantly related to other legume family members with edible bean pods or filling, such as Carob, Guamuchil, and Tamarind.
This website uses World Flora Online as the authority for plant species names and spelling.

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By Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 us, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-71901284

By Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 us, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-70613975

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Latest update: May, 2020