Any of about 200,000 species in about 700 genera of flowering plants that make up the order Fabales, consisting of the single family Fabaceae, or Leguminosae (the pea family). The term also refers to their characteristic fruit, also called a pod. Legumes are widespread on all habitable continents. Leaves of many members appear feathery, and flowers are almost universally showy. In economic importance, this order is surpassed only by the grass and sedge order (Cyperales). In the production of food, the legume family is the most important of any family. The pods are part of the diet of nearly all humans and supply most dietary protein in regions of high population density. In addition, legumes perform the invaluable act of nitrogen fixation. Because they contain many of the essential amino acids, legume seeds can balance the deficiencies of cereal protein. Legumes also provide edible oils, gums, fibres, and raw material for plastics; some are ornamentals. Included in this family are acacia, alfalfa, beans, broom, carob, clover, cowpea, lupine, mimosa, peas, peanuts, soybeans, tamarind, and vetch.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on legume, visit Britannica.com.

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