This plant is usually grown for it's pearl or stone looking seeds. They have been used for centuries as beads for jewelry ('Good Luck' necklaces) and rosaries. The seeds when ripe can be any color from pearly gray to pure black. The mature seeds grow with a pre-made hole through the center and can be stained with common wood stains. The plant itself is often grown as an ornamental grass that somewhat resembles corn. It easily grows four or more feet tall in my zone 6 garden and does manage to leave a few seeds to self seed the following year.
In the Orient, the seeds are eaten as a cereal called "Adlay". This plant is a perennial there, as well as in zones 9 and 10, but grown elsewhere as an annual. In these warmer climates, Job's Tears can easily reach ten feet tall.
This plant will also do well in wet areas. According to on-line sources, this plant will grow best in partial shade and 'tolerate' full sun.
Japanese name: JUZU DAMA The Japanese name means Buddhist rosary beads.
Job's tears are called many things, but that is the correct name. Its botanical name is Coix lachryma-jobi L. Not only are Job's tears edible, but they may well have been cultivated before rice. There is disagreement on where they were first cultivated, Indians opting for the Northeast of the country and Vavilov thought Job's Tears originated in the Greater Sundas (the four large Islands of Indonesia). The earliest one in museums came from Timor (Indonesia) ca. 3000 B.C. The earliest use for beads is from a site of the Harappan (Indus Valley) Civilization about 2000 BC or earlier. Some were strung on a wire in South India several centuries B.C. They can be dyed. There are three varieties: the tear-shaped, a long, spindle shape and a globular shape.
The Most Worn Bead Plant
It's called Coix lacryma-jobi in botanical nomenclature, but don't let that put you off. That's just the Latin way of saying "Job's Tears." The annual grass produces a fruit shaped like a tear drop. Since no one shed more tears than the Biblical Job, its name in the West, and thus in the botanical literature, was secured. An alternate name, used by Catholic rosary makers is "Mary's Tears."
Job's Tears were once an important source of food. Botanists disagree over its place of origin. The great, N.I. Vavilov (a victim of the psuedoscience that dominated Stalin's USSR) placed its origin in the Greater Sundas. These are the four largest islands of Indonesia (Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi, formerly the Celebes). Anglo-Indian botanists believe it originated in northeast India. In either case, it was domesticated very early for food. Maybe even before rice. In the wild, the fruit has a hard, shiny coat. After domestication, this coat becomes
less hard and easier to cook into a porridge. It ranks --- along with wheat and barley in the Near East; beans, corn, squash and pepper in the Americans; and rice in Asia -- as one of the earliest domesticated plants.
What makes this plant so important to the bead world is that the fruit is perfect for stringing. It is one of the rare natural beads in either the plant or animal kingdoms. At its tip is a hole that allows the flower to emerge. When
picked off the stem, the rounded end breaks off, leaving a hole. The inside is so soft that it is easily pierced. Hence, an instant bead.
How long have Job's Tears been used for beads? We will probably never know. One was found in Timor (one of the smaller Indonesian islands) dating to about 3000 B.C. It was reported as a "bead," but there is no other
evidence to support this idea. However, from a recently excavated site in western India comes indisputable proof that Job's Tears were used as beads around 2000 B.C. A beadmaking shop was uncovered, where the workers
were crafting beads from steatite (soapstone). Within the shop were many Job's Tears, apparently to be strung up with the steatite beads. At a southern Indian archaeological site dated to the first century or so, a wire was
excavated with five Job's Tears strung on it. Job's Tears are common finds in south Indian sites. Archaeologists were calling them "rice beads," because the plant grows wild in rice fields. Now they know what they are. Today Job's Tears are everywhere. The plant has been introduced to many countries, where it is used as a food supplement (you can buy it in health food stores in the US).