This species originated from the mountains of Central America. Most varieties have red flowers and multicolored seeds (though some have white flowers and white seeds), and they are often grown as ornamental plants. The vine can grow to 3 m (9 ft) or more in length.
It differs from the common bean (P. vulgaris) in several respects: the cotyledons stay in the ground during germination, and the plant is a perennial vine with tuberous roots (though it is usually treated as an annual).
The knife-shaped pods are normally green; however, there are very rare varieties bred by amateurs that have very unusual purple pods. An example of such a purple-podded runner bean is 'Aeron Purple Star'.
In the US, the scarlet runner is widely grown for its attractive flowers by people who would never think of eating it. The flower is known as a favourite of hummingbirds. But in the UK, the flowers are often ignored, or treated as an attractive bonus to cultivating the plant for the beans.
The seeds of the plant can be used fresh or as dried beans. The pods are edible whole while they are young and not yet fibrous. The starchy roots are still eaten by Central American Indians.
The beans are used in many cuisines. A variety named 'Judión de la Granja' producing large, white, edible beans is cultivated in San Ildefonso, Spain. It is the basis of a Segovian regional dish also named Judiones de la Granja, in which the beans are mixed with pig's ears, pig's trotters, and chorizo, amongst other ingredients.
In Greece, cultivars of the runner bean with white blossom and white beans are known as fasolia gigantes (φασόλια γίγαντες). They are grown under protective law in the north of Greece within the regions of Kato Nevrokopi, Florina and Kastoria.  The beans have an important role in Greek cuisine, appearing in many dishes. In Austria the coloured versions are cultivated and served as "Käferbohnen", a dish made of the dry beans with pumpkin seed oil. It is considered a typical dish of regional Austrian cuisine, but dried runner beans are also consumed to a small extent in Germany.
Greece and northern Africa are the sources of pods of the runner beans sold as "green beans" in European markets during the cold period. The pods can be identified by their big size and the rougher surface.
- 'Aeron Purple Star' (not available commercially)
- 'Black Runner'
- 'Case Knife'
- 'Hammond's Dwarf'
- 'Painted Lady'
- 'Pickwick Dwarf'
- 'Scarlet Runner'
- 'White Dutch Runner'
P. coccineus subsp. darwinianus is a cultivated subspecies, commonly referred to as the botil bean in Mexico.
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- "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species".
- "USDA GRIN Taxonomy".
- "Aeron Purple Star Runner Bean Seeds". Retrieved 2014-09-13.
- The Two Hour Garden The Sunday Times (1978)
- "Judiones". Judiones de la Granja. 7 September 2008. Retrieved 8 November 2008.
- "Judiones de La Granja recipe". Judiones de la Granja. 22 June 2008. Retrieved 8 November 2008.
- DOOR Database of the European community
- Phaseolus coccineus. FloriData.
- "The Harlan and de Wet Crop Wild Relative Inventory". Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and the Government of Norway. Retrieved 12 Sep 2013.