Considerations for Landrace Cowpea Development

Wondering if anyone is considering or working with cowpeas for developing locally adapted landraces, and interested in thoughts or experiences. From what I have read, cross-pollenizing might be challenging due to bloom overlap of different varieties and the pollination method, where larger bees land on the larger lower petal and open the flower to gain access to the pollen. Is anyone working with cowpeas or know more about ways to encourage landrace development. Many thanks and happy growing to everyone in the coming spring!

1 Like

I started out with cowpeas a few years ago. As far as landrace development goes, assuming it requires crosspollination in isn’t going well. The flowers are pretty closed up and I haven’t noticed much interest from the bees.

From a non-crossed varietal mix point of view, its going fine. Without exception, every variety I have planted grows and produces very well. I’ve stopped worrying about cross pollination so much and have moved on to selecting for my favorite flavors. This year I am going to sort my seeds by type so if any crossed seeds show up, they might be easier to identify.

I don’t mess around much with hand pollinating, most times I’ve tried, it failed.

1 Like

I got Lofthouse Cowpeas. I’ve never grown them before. They make a good cover crop and forage for livestock, so if they don’t really work for me as a veg they won’t be wasted.

I’ve got just shy of 100 seed so I may attempt a couple hand pollinations.

I just started with landracing cowpeas this past year. All but one of the many varieties I started with did quite well. Next year I’ll see how many crosses show up.

We’ve only just begun this season. I had not many seeds of not many varieties so this season is just to bulk up seeds. I will have a go at hand pollinating next season. Peas are easy to hand pollinate, common beans are not. I’m hoping cowpeas will be more like peas than common beans in this regard.

1 Like

Not yet, but it’s on our shortlist once we have our first Cougar landrace or two under our belts.

I’m planning to grow cowpeas this year. I’m hoping for a diverse mix of different colors, shapes, and flavors. I’m planning to select them for yumminess, prettiness, and productivity. And drought tolerance, almost by default, because I’m a desert, and I want to water stingily!

Though I have not given my cowpea varietal mix/proto-landrace the full attention it deserves I have been finding crossed variants. Slow going, I need to make a better effort. I had a large collection of cowpeas including some rare ones, finally got tired of the organizational issues so I mixed them all together around 5-6 years ago. No regrets whatsoever…

[Edit to Add] I should note that I try to sow an equal amount of seeds of as many strains as I can find in the previous season’s harvest, plus backcrossing of previous harvests. The photo is thus a good indicator of the yields of the various strains, the dominant gray colored cowpea obviously was the highest yielding cowpea strain of that season. This begs the question, does a person choose diversity over yield? I always do, but I consider being able to decide in that direction to be a luxury that might not always be available in the future.

I love eating cowpeas, I find them more useful as an ingredient in many different meals than common dry beans but I still focus more on my various dry bean landrace crops because yields per square foot are higher and I get better food production by weight in the same amount of space. I let my cowpea vines trail up cattle panels, saves space and easier for me to harvest. In late summer/fall I harvest pods every couple days repeatedly as they dry down to stay ahead of mold and rot and mice issues, just as I do with all my seed bean and dry bean harvests.

I have bush cowpea varieties but I have not included them in this mix. They are not that productive for me anyway as compared to viners so I might finally abandon those varieties.


I still growing some of the compact bushy ones, I like them quite a bit. I interplant them with other things like brassicas. Down here is SE Indiana cowpeas are very productive and after several years had very little issues with any kind of disease or bugs. I think they can easy produce just as well as beans, but I still rely mostly on beans. I mixed them all together as well but this year am going to separate the short bushy ones and the larger vines into separate groups. I haven’t seen any yet that I can say for sure are crossed. The photo is old, I have more kinds mixed in now and have been selecting against the red ones a bit as we don’t like them as much. I favor the larger, lighter colored ones for flavor and production.


Pretty mix you have there. I am partial to the creams but not enough to be an issue to me. There are so many strains of creams out there, the visual difference between them simply being the color patch around the hilum. I find some cowpea varieties to have a gritty texture/mouth feel which does not thrill me but not a deal breaker either. I find the same thing occurs with some common dry beans. Not enough of an issue for me to attempt to select out of anything unless it gets worse.

If I ever decided to do things differently I would focus on a cowpea landrace of just the viner creams, might try doing it just for fun but last thing I need to do is start another project.

I always forget to mention how long I have been growing some of the seeds I have. It is an important consideration from the standpoint of local adaptation, even though I grew them out in isolation to maintain purity of strain. My first cowpea was California Blackeye, started growing that in the 1980s and that turned me on to growing cowpeas. I started acquiring other cowpea varieties in the 1990s and 2000s and back then I kept everything separate and worried about isolation to keep the heirloom strains in my collection pure, what a waste of time and effort. I continue acquiring varieties and mixes if I find something that piques my interest, got some for this year to trial.

I find cowpeas have very few if any insect pest or disease issues. I have slight issues with varmints getting into the dry pods, I occasionally find little caches of common bean and cowpea seeds when I am doing garden cleanup. Sneaky little creatures. My greatest issue with all the various pod seed harvesting is dry pods getting wet and moldy from the rains during cooler September harvest weather, if I stay on top of the harvesting then losses are minimal though there are bad years of course.

1 Like

Really have enjoyed hearing about what folks are doing with cowpeas. I have this mixture of purchased seeds and another of a few varieties I saved from last year. These are a mixture of bush and vine types. I did not have any clear crosses last year but added a few more varieties for this year. Looking forward to hearing more from everyone.


Those pictures are great, and exciting because they show a fair amount of color variation. Yay! Common beans seem to have the most color and pattern variation, so it’s always nice to see that other bean species can offer variety, too.

One consideration for me is, “How good do these taste as green beans?” I really enjoy green beans, so some of the cowpeas I’ve bought have been sold as yard-long beans, a.k.a. cowpeas meant to be harvested as green beans. I hope they’ll be yummy.

To my taste buds, they have a different flavour profile compared to common beans. Some say mushroomy. Not sure about mushrooms but definitely their own flavour. Also, they are not as sweet. I repeat though that this is the way they taste to me.

I think I’ve heard yard-long beans described as “nutty.” So maybe it’s a stronger umami flavor?

I’m hoping I’ll like the flavor. It sounds promising. The fact that they’re more drought tolerant than most common beans sounds very promising, too.

1 Like

thanks to all of you for this discussion on vigna unguiculata. I did not know what cowpeas were, until I recently checked for latin and french (Niéblé) , because your exchanges got me salivating. You know, I am interrested in legumes. So this legume was in my imagination only an african crop, not for france . But I discovered that some of you grow it in non-african conditions so I might as well give it a try.
Also good to mention, I grew last year some african crop (sorgho and millet) in britany a region of france that has a very humid reputation . But last year’s climate here has been litterally mediterranean, so millet did extremely well (and lentills, too) . So I will try to get some cowpea seeds to start getting to know about this species. My first attemps on internet gave no source for these seeds so if any european landracer could help me it would be fantastic.

1 Like

You should be able to get haricots oeil noir I think, a very common cowpea. Also, if you are ever in Paris go to the African district (Chateau Rouge especially) and you may find a range of niébés available in grocery stores. You could also search for Fagiolina del Trasimeno, an Italian heirloom cowpea.


RAY , I love this suggestion : I will go to chateau rouge next time I visit my daughter in Paris ! I know this area of paris from a long time ago, I will find my way there. THANK YOU


Je vous en prie Isabelle.

so magic to be part of a community .

1 Like

I agree they are different. They aren’t my favorite for eating raw, but they are my favorite for cooked dishes. I’d add “earthy” or “minerally” to the “mushroomy” descriptor already added. If you’ve spent enough years in the South, there’s a similarity to fresh black eyed/purple hulled/crowder/etc. peas (which are the same species, so not shocking).

1 Like