The vegetative growth, flowering and seed yield of three cowpea varieties—Adzuki, Mala and New Era—with contrasting yields, were compared in one field and two greenhouse experiments. In the field the plants were spaced so far apart that they did not form a closed stand, but were effectively individuals, like the potted plants used in the greenhouse experiments. In all experiments New Era yielded most followed by Mala, although the differences between these two varieties were not significant, and Adzuki least.
Seed yield and vegetative growth were not simply related. New Era with the highest seed yield had the largest vegetative dry weight, leaf area and leaf area duration (D), followed by Mala, with Adzuki always least in each parameter. However, the superiority of New Era in total dry weight and leaf area was much greater than in seed yield. Mala and Adzuki were more efficient than New Era in converting dry matter into seed. Large fractions of current assimilates moved from the leaves to the seed of Adzuki and Mala than of New Era.
Varietal differences in relative growth rate, net assimilation rate, or leaf area ratio were too small to account for varietal differences in seed yield.
New Era and Mala produced more flower buds than Adzuki. However, Adzuki developed the largest proportion of ripe fruits, but had more aborted seeds/fruit than New Era and Mala. Thus, increased flower production and fruit formation did not increase the production of mature seeds. Therefore, little would be gained by breeding or selecting for increased flower production. The heavier seeds of Mala and New Era compared with those of Adzuki contributed greatly to their larger yields. At the spacing of 3 ft x 1 ft used in the field, the leaf area index (L) and leaf area duration (D) were suboptimal, and closer spacing should increase yield.