Less magic, more mystery in bean’s origins
There is a mysterious plant in Nebraska’s past.
On a farm in north Omaha, Neb., in 1934, a plant bearing unusual produce was grown on the Charles Hubbell farm. Measuring up to 18 pounds and more than three feet long, the produce were photographed in the arms of Hubbell’s grandchildren for the local newspaper, and officially labeled “Australian Guana beans”. In the accompanying article, Hubbell was cited as declaring that he’d “never seen Guana beans of this size” in his 40 years of farming.
There’s just one problem, though — there’s no record of an Australian Guana bean or its existence, anywhere.
“I’ve never really known what the beans were,” said Arlington, Neb. resident Dorothy Jenkins, a granddaughter of Charles Hubbell, who kept a clipping of the article in her family archives for many years.
Though Dorothy recalled visiting her grandfather’s farm in the Omaha neighborhood of Florence often, she was only about four years old at the time the photograph was taken — too young to remember the beans, the photograph, or the hubbub.
“I can’t remember ever seeing (this bean) in a garden either,” she added.
She isn’t the only one who is stumped.
Historians at the Nebraska State Historical Society said they were “at a loss, too, in identifying this gourd-like thing.”
UNL Extension educator John Wilson said he’s never heard of an Australian Guana bean, pondering aloud if a certain bat by-product was primarily utilized as the fertilizer in its native region, hence bestowing the bean with its distinctive name. After a chuckle, Wilson dug into the mystery. But he didn’t get far.
“I Googled it, as well as checked any references here,” he said in an email, “and came up with absolutely nothing.”
Sharing the bean photograph with other Extension educators and UNL professors across the state, Wilson requested any information relating to the existence of the elusive Australian Guana bean.
There was no answer.
There were, however, plenty of educated guesses on what the produce in question might have been — mostly consisting of various gourds and their related species.
One theory, from UNL Extension educator Crystal Powers, seems a likely scenario.
“The look like the long variant of bottle gourds,” Powers said. “They were native to tropical regions throughout the world, so maybe (they) were referencing the place ‘Guyana’? Maybe ‘bean’ for the shape?”
Despite their numerous attempts at identifying the photographed food, Nebraska agriculturalists were ultimately unable to confirm or deny the existence of the Australian Guana bean — leaving the mystery somewhere between the borders of Midwestern agriculture legend and lore.
To submit a historic photograph to be featured on the front cover of the Midwest Messenger, send a large resolution copy of the photo and your contact information — including phone number — to Midwest Messenger, Box 239, Tekamah, NE 68061. Digital submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.