Texas researchers are optimistic that an annual summer legume with an unusual name might become popular in the South.

Lablab, a fast-growing plant native to the tropics, could serve multiple purposes if low-cost varieties adapted to the region can be developed, says Gerald Smith.

He's a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) legume breeder at the Overton Research & Extension Center. Assisting Smith are Monte Rouquette, a TAES plant physiologist, and Steve Brown with the Texas Foundation Seed Service.

“Lablab can be grown for emergency or supplemental summer grazing, cut as hay or grown in mixtures with corn or sorghum and harvested as silage,” says Smith. “It has about the same forage production and nutritive value potential as cowpeas, but it's much more palatable.”

The vining legume has heart-shaped leaves about the size of an adult's hands. Its crude protein content can reach 25%.

Also known as hyacinth bean, lablab favors sandy, slightly acid soils and can thrive on 10-15” of rain during the growing season once it gets established. It can yield nearly 2 tons of dry forage/acre.

The researchers say it could also be an alternative seed crop for Texas.

“We have a lot of seed production here, and we have the capability to grow more, so we're always looking for something new,” says Smith.

One lablab variety, Rongai, is currently being imported from Australia and used as a supplemental feed in wildlife plots. But at $1.50/lb, cattle producers can't afford to plant large acreages of it.

“If a producer called and asked me how much to plant, I would probably say 50 lbs/acre,” says Smith. “Lablab is a good enough forage that it could be used for cattle, but in order for cattle producers to use it, the seed needs to be cheaper.”

In their quest to develop new varieties, researchers evaluated several breeding lines for regrowth after grazing, relative maturity and seed production potential.

Two experimental lines that looked especially promising are now in advanced trials. They could eventually become new lablab varieties. Another 10-20 experimental lines are in earlier stages of testing.

“It will take three to five years to develop a new variety of lablab that will be a useful forage and seed crop,” says Smith.