Peanut – What Is This Plant That Even Two U.S. Presidents Grew?

Most nuts grow on trees. But peanut (Arachis hypogaea) isn’t like most nuts. Botanically, it isn’t a nut at all! It’s the seed of a legume crop from the pea or bean family, Fabaceae. Also called groundnut, goober, earthnut, pindar, or monkey nut, peanuts are cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions. According to the Texas Peanut Producers, presidents Jimmy Carter and Thomas Jefferson were peanut farmers if you’re wondering which presidents grew this plant.

So what the peanut plant is, how does it grow, how is it used, and can it flourish in home gardens? The plant is a rather unusual species. There’s plenty that will surprise you. Let’s dig deeper and find out everything about peanuts!

Unlike other legumes that bear fruits above the ground, peanut flowers above the surface and fruits underground. Its botanical name, given by Carl Linnaeus, “hypogaea,” meaning “under the earth,” tells something about this property.

As with other legumes, peanuts encourage the activity of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, adding nitrogen to the soil and improving soil fertility for your future crops.

Common NamePeanut, Groundnut, Goober, Earthnut
Botanical NameArachis Hypogaea
Plant TypeA Perennial That Is Usually Grown As An Annual
Size (Fully Grown)1 To 2 Feet (About 30 To 61 cm) Tall, With A 3 Feet (About 91 cm) Spread
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Soil TypeLoose And Well-draining Sandy Soil, For Example, Is Great For Peanuts
Soil pHFrom 6.0 To 6.5
Flower ColorYellow
U.S. Hardiness Zones5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, And 12
Native AreaSouth America

How Many Types Of Peanuts Are There?

There are several peanut varieties grown across the globe. In the United States, different cultivars can be classified into four categories:

Valencia

These are fast-growing varieties that take 90 – 110 days to mature and grow 49 inches tall (about 1,25 meters) and a spread 30 inches (roughly 76 cm). Most of the pods appear in clusters near the base of the plant. Each pod has 3 to 6 small oval seeds covered in red skin.

  1. Valencia A
  2. Valencia C
  3. Georgia Red
  4. Tennessee Red

Spanish

Spanish peanuts have more significant oil content than other peanuts and take about 90 to 120 days to mature. The plant grows in the form of a low bush, with small, almost round seeds in the pods, covered in reddish-brown skin.

The best part is that their higher oil content makes them suitable for peanut butter, candies, and roasted peanuts.

  1. Spanette
  2. Argentine
  3. Spancross
  4. GFA Spanish
  5. Dixie Spanish
  6. Shaffers Spanish
  7. Improved Spanish 2B

Virginia

Virginia peanuts take 130 to 150 days to mature, producing pods with the largest seeds among all four categories. Each pod contains two or three seeds that have an excellent flavor for salting and roasting.

  1. NC 7
  2. NC 9
  3. Perry
  4. Wilson
  5. NC 10C
  6. Gregory

Runner

Runner peanuts take about 130 to 150 days to mature, and they produce medium-sized seeds, usually two per pod. The seeds have an excellent flavor, and they’re perfect for peanut butter and salted nuts.

  1. Early Runner
  2. Georgia Green
  3. Bradford Runner
  4. Flavor Runner 458
  5. Southeastern Runner 56-15
  6. North Carolina Runner 56-15

Origins And The History Of Peanuts

Native to tropical South America, so we believe that they originated from either Peru or Brazil. Pottery in the shape of peanuts made by ancient South Americans dating back 3500 years suggests that the nut has a long history in the region.

During the 1500BC ancient Incan civilization of Peru buried peanuts with mummies to help them through the afterlife. The plant was also used to make sacrificial offerings. In central Brazil, peanuts, together with maize, were used to create a traditional drink.

From South America, peanuts journeyed to Europe with the Spanish explorers. When Spaniards came across peanuts in the New World, people were already growing the plant in North America as far as Mexico. With these explorers, the nut traveled back to Spain, and from Spain, extensive trading spread them to Asia and Africa.

With the ships that carried African slaves to North America in the 1700s, peanuts returned to the Western Hemisphere. But, all through the 1700s and 1800s, they weren’t popular in the United States, and cultivation was limited because it grows slowly.

After the Civil War, when soldiers subsisted on peanuts as a rich source of nutrients, the popularity quickly grew by the end of the 1800s. In the 1900s, labor-saving tools for cultivating and harvesting peanuts were developed, along with agricultural support programs. As you might expect, this was also the reason it is such a popular plant these days.

Where Was Peanut Butter First Made?

When speaking of peanuts, it wouldn’t be fair not to mention peanut butter. This American favorite was first created by the ancient Incans of Peru or at least one version of it.

After that, peanut butter was re-invented by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in the United States in 1895. It was first seen in the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1905, from where it quickly became an indispensable element of an American breakfast table.

Peanut Butter Is Made Of Peanuts
© maryviolet – stock.adobe.com

What Does The Peanut Plant Look Like?

Peanut is an annual herbaceous plant from the Fabaceae family. It grows 1 to 2 feet (about 30 to 61 cm) tall and has a 3-foot (about 91 cm) spread like most legumes.

Depending on the variety, the plants can take two forms. It’s either an upright shrubby plant with short branches or spreads close to the ground with long branches.

The flowers produced above the ground form pegs that sink to the ground before bearing peanut pods. The seeds inside these fruits are what we buy from the grocery stores!

Leaves

The tough, hairy stems hold pinnately compound leaves, with two pairs of leaflets on each side. Each feather-like leaflet is 0,4 to 2,8 inches (about 1 to 7 cm) long and 0,4 to 1,2 inches (about 1 to 3 cm) wide.

The nyctinastic leaves exhibit a unique “sleep” movement, closing at night and opening up in the morning.

Flowers

Flowers are produced in leaf axils, 0,4 to 0,6 inches (about 1 to 1.5 cm) wide, featuring yellow-orange petals with reddish veins. The flowers that are produced in clusters above the ground last for a single day. The flowers give “pegs,” which are elongated and extend from the ovary base. These pegs sink to the bottom of the plant to bear the pod.

Pods

The oblong pods are usually 1 to 2 inches long (about 2,5 to 5 cm), with a thin, netted skin containing 1 to 5 seeds inside of them. The number, size, and shape of the seeds can vary between the variety, but most of them are nearly oval, with a papery seed coat.

In What Conditions Do Peanuts Grow Best In?

Peanuts, a warm-season annual crop, may seem a bit intimidating, but it’s possible to grow and harvest them in your garden! Here are a few things you’ll need to be careful with:

What Temperature Do Peanuts Need To Grow?

Peanuts have a long growing season, between 90 to 130 frost-free days depending on the variety. A few weeks after the last spring frost, sow them in to the ground once the soil has warmed above 65°F (about 18°C). Ideally, the air temperature should be above 85°F (roughly 30°C) throughout the growing season.

Soil And Sun

Peanuts like to grow in a full sun spot and loose, organically rich soil, preferably a sandy loam. Let’s not forget soil pH, which should be between 6.0 and 6.5.

Water And Fertilizing

Maintain an evenly moist soil until the peanut plant flowers. Continue giving an inch (about 2,5 cm) of water a week until the pods form and are filled.

Then about two weeks before harvest, stop watering them and let the soil dry out. Pods will need an extended dry period to develop correctly.

If you’ve planted peanuts in compost-rich soil, supplemental fertilization isn’t usually needed. The plant fixes its nitrogen, so using nitrogen-rich fertilizers isn’t recommended.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Peanuts?

Peanuts are a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They can help prevent heart diseases and gallstones and promote weight loss. Let’s find out if there are any conditions in which you should avoid or control its consumption.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Rich in folates and proteins, peanuts are healthy for pregnant women, as long as you’re not allergic to them. They’re also safe for nursing mothers.

Children

Feeding whole nuts to children before the age of four is unsafe. Infants can consume peanut butter thinned with water or mixed with pureed fruits or vegetables, but only in small amounts.

People With Allergies

Peanut is a common allergen. For some people, even small amounts of peanuts can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening reactions. Symptoms include itching, swelling, digestive problems, runny nose, and shortness of breath. If you find any signs after consuming them, consult a doctor immediately!

People With Diabetes

Peanuts have a very low glycemic index, making them an excellent snack for people with diabetes.

Pets

Peanuts are not considered toxic to pets; but, they should only be offered in moderation, unsalted, with the shells removed.

Featured image credit – © andersphoto – stock.adobe.com

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