Potatoes are one of the most important food crops in the world. They store vast quantities of starch in tubers which grow underground. They store the starch as a nutrition source for the next generation of potatoes. Depending on the species, a potato plant can support up to 20 tubers.
Potatoes are thought to have originated in South America in the area near Chile and throughout the Andes. They were widely cultivated during the pre-Columbian period and after the discovery of the New World this source of food eventually made its way to Europe and beyond.
The potato belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Other family members include the tomato, pepper, eggplant and tobacco. Though the most popular species are the white, such as the Idaho, and the red, there are over 100 species of potato.
The above-ground plant has dark green leaves covered with tiny hairs and can grow to a height of 4 feet with the vines being able to reach 15 feet. The flowers grow on the vines and can be pink, purple or white and have a bell shape.
Potato tubers are actually enlarged portions of the underground ends of stolons, also called rhizomes. A stolon is a thin horizontal plant stem that grows just underneath the soil surface.
The primary storage area is called the tuber medulla. The tuber skin thickens when the above ground plant withers and dies, providing additional protection during the tuber's dormant stage and during harvesting.
The most common way of planting potatoes is to cut up the tubers into several parts with each part containing an eye, or a bud, and planting them underground. The starch in the part of the tuber surrounding the bud nourishes the new plant until the green shoots break the soil surface and are able to photosynthesize the plant's own food.
- Biology of Potatoes
- University of Illinois Information on Potatoes
- Potato Descriptions
- Potato Reproduction
- Starch Production
Storage of starch in potato tubers, History of potatoes, Vegetative Reproduction, Rhizomes
About this Author
Monica Wachman has been writing since 1979. Much of her work has been in travel, history and the natural sciences. She is a former editor for FishersTravelSOS and house writer for EasyRez.com. She has a degree in Travel and Tourism from Career Com Technical Schools and has been in this industry since 1989.