One Potato, Two Potato...Ipomoea batatas!


-The sweet potato, or more scientifically, Ipomoea batatas, is a herbaceous perennial vine that has white and purple flowers, large nutritious storage roots and heart-shaped lobed leaves.

When most people see sweet potatoes sitting on the shelf at the local grocery store, they don’t see the impact that this organism has had on today’s world. Whether it is lack of awareness or appreciation, sweet potatoes don't seem to receive the credit that they deserve for their excellence. But where exactly did this organism originate? Why is it so popular among developing countries? The past decade has proven to be the first global effort to understand this plants full potential as a food, but how else can this organism be used? Want the answers to these questions? Keep reading!!

Along side the question of what this plant can do for the world, scientists still seem to be asking where this super plant came from. It is popular belief that Ipomoea batatas, or common name “Sweet Potato,” was domesticated over 5000 years ago. According to published work from the International Potato Center, it is still unclear whether this took place in South America or Central America. The International Potato Center consists of a team of scientists from 25 countries who seek to a
chieve food security in developing countries through scientific research on white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other tuber and root crops. In contrast, more recently published work from the Library of Congress states that the earliest cultivation records of the sweet potato date to 750 BCE in Peru. Both sources suggest that the plant was first introduced into China in early 1600’s by Portuguese explorers. Because it’s planting material can be multiplied greatly from very few roots and its distinguished adaptability, the sweet potato spread quickly throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa during the 17th and 18th centuries. The sweet potato strains date from the first voyage of Columbus in 1492, which resulted in the introduction of West Indian sweet potatoes in Europe. The wild ancestor of the sweet potato still has not been identified.

Sweet Potato Crops
Because this plant has been domesticated for so long, it has evolved features that have turned it into a perfect crop plant. Agriculturally, the sweet potato is the fifth most grown food crop in developing countries after rice, wheat, maize, and cassava. This ranking is supported by the fact that sweet potatoes are responsible for over 133 million tons of production every year. Of the total 133 million tons, China is responsible for 117 million tons of annual production. The sweet potato has several historical uses in China including food security crops, staple crops in lower income mountainous areas, and as livestock feed. Livestock feed accounts for about half of total production. In contrast, Africa only produces seven million tons of sweet potatoes each year and almost all is used for human consumption. In eastern Africa, sweet potato is called cilera abana, meaning, “protector of the children.” This name reflects the crucial roll that the sweet potato has in thousands of villages throughout Africa.

Now that you know a little bit about how prevalent this plant is throughout the world, explore this website and find a better appreciation for the sweet potato! What's the first step? Check out where this organism fits into its family tree by clicking here!

To learn more about other organisms, check out

The panoramic image you see embedded into the template of this website was from the International Potato Center given permission to use by Kelly Theisen.

Cole Keesler April 15, 2011